Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

China's Hurdles Heartbreak

After a false start in a preliminary heat, Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang headed towards the starting area like all the other participants. But instead of getting set in the blocks once again, Liu simply kept walking away, his Olympic medal hopes, and those of an entire nation, disappearing into the stadium tunnel. Liu had already been bothered by injuries leading up to the Games, and when he pulled up lame in that heat with what would turn out to be a busted Achilles tendon, he knew he was finished. It's hard to overstate the expectations saddling Liu, who won the 110-meter gold in Athens. "Officials told us if Liu could not win a gold medal in Beijing, all of his previous achievements would become meaningless," Sun Haiping, Liu's coach, told the press last year. That would explain the stunned, hushed reaction to his exit; 91,000 fans at the Bird's Nest, who came to cheer their hero, fell silent. At a post-race conference, Sun broke down in tears. He wasn't alone.