Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Liu's Last Hurdle

Liu Xiang down and out during the Men's 110m hurdles
It was a sad case of deja vu yesterday.

Liu Xiang crashed out in the Men's 110m hurdles on the first hurdle, and he fell over looking bewildered.

Then he hopped on his left foot to the final hurdle and kissed it as if to say goodbye and then sat in a wheelchair to be taken for medical treatment.

It was a pathetic ending to the biggest anticipation of Liu's comeback since he walked off the track just moments before the race at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to the shock of his 1.3 billion fans.

According to Feng Sheyong, leader of China's athletics team, said the initial reports suggested Liu snapped his right Achilles tendon, adding the injury was "quite serious".

Feng said the 29-year-old had never recovered from the ankle injury he sustained before the Beijing Games. "Many reports said Liu had fully recovered from the injury, but he has not," he said. "He always has a strong reaction in his right ankle after each race, but fortunately most competitions finish in one race and he has ample time for treatment.

"The London Games is a bit different, with three races leading to the final. In preparing for them, there has been reaction in his ankle, but we did not expect it to be that serious."

Feng said team doctors did not give Liu painkillers, just regular medication.

"At the point of taking off, the tendon bears a lot of pressure, and at the moment the injury occurred, he froze," Feng continued. "He got up and finished. It shows that it's not all about winning, but showing the Olympic spirit to the world. This is the end of the season for him as he needs time for medical treatment."

When asked if Liu would retire, Feng replied: "It is not the time to talk about that. Lots of athletes get injured and come back. It depends on many factors. I hope the fans understand that anything can happen."

There was mixed reaction about what happened to Liu.

Some Chinese sports commentators cried on air, while Bai Yansong of CCTV said: "At least he made the attempt this time. For an athlete like Liu Xiang, he has achieved a lot of successes and made great efforts over the past four years to stand ready again for the Olympics. Despite regrets, let's pray for him."

Celebrities and entertainers sent their best wishes to Liu via microblogging sites, including pop singer Faye Wong who wrote: "It's okay and there are many more hurdles ahead in life to get over. Fight!"

Some fans were frustrated and bitter that Liu could not race and wondered if he and his coach Sun Haiping were holding back information about the extent of Liu's injuries.

"How come Liu did not spend much time doing warm-up in such chilly weather? Even state television reporters spotted it," said Zhao Jing, an online commentator.

TV footage showed other runners practicing going over hurdles, while Liu only jogged to the first hurdle.

"It appeared to be a staged show to fool the mainland public while pleasing his sponsors," commented a microblogger.

What's also strange is that state media were playing down hopes for Liu even before the race and a CCTV reporter in London admitted the propaganda authorities had issued gag orders.

"An instruction was circulated among our colleagues Monday, saying it should be considered a victory as long as Liu showed up at the starting line."

Other mainland reporters said they had received orders from above banning critical coverage of Liu.

Baptist University associate professor of physical education Lobo Louie Hung-tak also questioned Liu's preparedness for the race.

"Liu only flew back to London this week after training in Germany. he might not have been able to recover or adapt to the environment in time," Louie said. "It doesn't appear to be the recurrence of his Achilles problem, because Liu has maintained good form this season so far."

Professor Joanne Chung Wai-yee, head of the Institute of Education's department of health and physical education said Liu looked relaxed before the race.

"I don't think his injury was related to psychological problems or pressure," she said. "From the television footage, Liu looked fine before he jumped the hurdle. Therefore, I believe his injury was incurred when he tried to jump."

Meanwhile I contacted my friend, who, four years earlier was emotionally upset when Liu was unable to compete in Beijing.

Again many friends contacted her to see what her reaction was to Liu's second time of not being able to complete the race.

While she's still idolizes him, she seems more concerned about his injury and if it will hinder him from living a "normal" life.

With plenty of money earned from sponsorships, Liu will most probably be fine for the rest of his life, but will never be able to prove to the world he was just a one-hit wonder.

It will be interesting to see how Chinese history will remember this young man, who carried the hopes of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders, but was unable to execute twice in a row.

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