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August 18, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 18 -- It was a heartbreaking moment for Liu Xiang and for numerous Olympics audiences.

Liu Xiang, the defending Olympic champion of men's 110m hurdles and icon of Chinese sport, limped out of the Bird's Nest stadium after just managing a few awkward steps in his opening heat Monday morning.


Even before he got into his crouch, his painful expression and tottering steps had raise an ominous feeling.

He limped out of the block at the starting gun, then pulled up when the second gun sounded to signal a false start.

His next move shocked the huge crowd at the stadium into silence. He tore the paper with his number off his leg and walked gingerly towards the tunnel, obviously being troubled by a foot injury.

An overwhelming hush and worry soon enveloped the 91,000-seat stadium.

"His Achilles's tendon in right foot was seriously hurt again this morning before the race," a tearful coach Sun Haiping said in a post-race press conference where Liu could not show up.

"With the bad injury," Sun said, "Liu shivered when receiving immediate medical treatment of three sports doctors."

"He is a fighter," added Sun, "He has been keeping fighting and fighting until the last moment."

"It's just impossible for him to run, but he still doesn't want to give up," said Sun, praising his pupil's extraordinarily strong mentality and sportsmanship.

Online reaction was swift and supportive. "We support you, you are still the best." "You have tried your best. You are still the champion." "I wish you will be fine soon" read some comments posted on Xinhuanet, the website of Xinhua News Agency, the Host News Agency of the 29th Olympic Games.

"We love you. We understand you. We support you. Please don't be sad," said a message posted by "Love Liu Xiang."

"Don't blame Liu Xiang. We can not imagine how hard he has tried. He has been preparing the Beijing Olympic Games for four years, he definitely will not choose to quit if he can tolerate the pain," said another posting.

Just as Feng Shuyong, deputy director of the Chinese athletics administrative center and head coach of the Chinese team, said, "If his injury weren't so serious, he would never, ever have quit."

The 25-year-old hurdler is as much a celebrity in China as Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.

Liu's withdrawal was by far the most stunning development on day 4 of the track and field competition -- of far more significance than any races that actually were run, including 100-meter champion Usain Bolt's advancing to the second round in the 200.

Liu cherished the home game so much and poured almost everything on his title defence. Days before the Olympics, Liu created his season best of 12.98 seconds. Head coach Feng said, "He has recovered 90 percent of his best form, similar to what he was like before the Athens Olympics."
After winning his appearance in the Bird's Nest National Stadium in May, Liu pulled out of a meet in the United States, worrying about deterioration of a nagging injury.

Billions of avid Chinese were eager to witness Liu to bring the country more honor at the Olympic Games. Without Liu lining up with Robles and other top athletes, the Olympic hurdles sprint seems to be less charismatic.

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