Great bawl of China: hero falls at first hurdle

LIU Xiang hopped the length of the straight, got to the final hurdle paused, bent down and kissed it. He hopped on to the finish line and was gathered up in the arms of a Briton and a Hungarian. They carried him to a wheelchair.

Liu had been unable to get to the start line in his home Olympics, he was determined to get to the finish line in London but for the second time in consecutive Olympics the former gold medallist has been eliminated without clearing a hurdle.

When he hit the first hurdle Liu tumbled and rolled and sat before the second hurdle looking in pained disbelief at the field of runners sprinting away from him. His games were over, but not his race. Liu, the man who as the first Chinese male to win track gold when he won the 110m hurdles in Athens had gone into Beijing as the face of China’s games, the poster boy of a country and with the burden of a billion people on him.

On the morning of his heats four years ago he had to withdraw with an Achilles injury. At the world championships last year, the man who had carried the world record was buffeted and while he might have won the race but for the illegal attention of Cuban rival Dayron Robles (he as later disqualified), he had to settle for a lesser medal. His last Olympics was to be his moment to redeem his early glory.

So after he had gathered himself up and moved off the track, Liu resolved it was not going to end this way. He turned and hopped on his left leg the length of the straight by-passing every hurdle but the last where he bent to kiss it.

Then he crossed the line and Andy Turner went to him to hold him up and help him from the track. ‘‘I know how painful those Achilles problems are and after what he’s been through, this is absolutely devastating for him. I really feel for Liu Xiang because in my opinion he’s the greatest hurdler ever,’’ Turner said.

As Turner held him Hungary’s Blazs Baji walked over and raised Liu’s hand in the air to declare the true winner of the race. He then wrapped a strong arm across his shoulder and he and Turner helped him to a wheelchair. Each of the rest of the field walked over to shake his hand.

‘‘We are not actually friends, I have seen him competing a lot of times, I saw him when I was a small kid and he is just a great big idol for me so I was racing against him and OK I wanted to beat him but there is not a chance if he runs well,’’ Baji said.

‘‘After all of this he was hopping on one leg all the way through kissing last hurdle, that was just great moment, that was Olympics. I was sorry for him first and he is a great hero for me, after what happened he didn’t just disappeared, he was hopping all the way through and he showed big respect for Olympic games and I wanted to show big respect for him.’’

The scenes were reminiscent of the memorable Olympic moment 20 years ago when Great Britain’s Derek Redmond broke down in the 400m semi-finals, but he was determined to limp to the finish line and was assisted by his father who came on to the track.With Chris Barrett

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