Changing China

Giant on the move

Liu Xiang: the end of an Olympic dream

August 18, 2008

Liu grimaces“Well that’s it,” a journalist friend said when he phoned me at the Bird’s Nest a couple of hours after Liu Xiang hobbled out of the Beijing Olympics. “We might as well pack our backs and go home.”
We won’t, of course, but for us China-based reporters, this was always going to be the big one: the race that defined the Olympics.
I was in the Olympic stadium in Athens the night Liu won the 110 metres hurdles gold. Then it was a mild diversion, a tremendous performance from an unlikely source. He had barely finished his lap of honour, though, before his title defence in Beijing was being written about. It was too neat a line to miss.
Since then, I’ve written thousands of words about the skinny man from Shanghai with a penchant for karaoke and braised pork.
I was there last year, too, when he won his first world title on a hot and humid night in Osaka, his favourite track.
By then I’d been inside the Bird’s Nest and even as I pondered the raw concrete bowl with mud beneath my feet where the track would lie, I was thinking about how it would look and sound packed to its twisted steel rafters with a fevered Chinese crowd cheering Liu on.
Liu’s coach criesWe did see him run in the stadium at a test event earlier this year, but, to adapt a line from an American politician, I know Olympic finals and that was no Olympic final.
After his injury earlier this season, and his disappearance behind closed doors for a couple of months, I can’t even say I’m even surprised by what has happened. 
I have always felt sorry for Liu because of the pressure he was under and today also felt sympathy for his coach Sun Haiping, who has always come across as a thoroughly decent man. 
But rather selfishly, my main emotion is disappointment. We now know almost for certain that we will never hear the sound of 91,000 people celebrating an Olympic gold medal for one of their own in what must be one of the world’s finest stadiums.  

PHOTO (TOP): Liu Xiang of China grimaces in pain during his warm-up before the start of his 110m hurdles heat in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

PHOTO (BOTTOM): Sun Haiping, coach of China’s Liu Xiang, cries during a news conference at the National Stadium. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon


Liu Xiang is the best in my eys. Always have, always been. I am your crazy little fan forgood. Good luck and have a really nice rest. Next time, we still depend on you. Go green!

Posted by Kristy Lee from China | Report as abusive

I for one didn’t care about Liu Xiang not participating and withdrawing from the Games. The guy simply couldn’t stand the pressure. I am sick of people assuming he will get the gold medal. As for the Chinese basketball team, they suck too.

Michael Phelps, now that is one outstanding athlete. Who can eat 12,000 calories a day and still break world records and be the all-time greatest Olympian? Only him.

Posted by Wilson | Report as abusive

It is a big deal, because it’s Olympic, especially at home, I believe he wouldn’t quit if his left foot permits.

Liu is the No.2 tragedy in the Games, top 1 belongs to Matt Emmons.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

according to a hong kong news reporter liu said that a man with yellow skin will not run after a man with black skin!!!!!! how injured was he again?????

Posted by lou | Report as abusive

Dissapointing for everyone. I waited just for this day. But alas. I guess this is just the way it was supposed to be. I wont blame him. On the contrary I think his 2004 athens nostalgia still lives to create hope for other chinese athletes.

Posted by ninoto | Report as abusive

Liu Xiang is the best in my eys. I support him.

Posted by real justice | Report as abusive

wow….it was shocking to hear the news. It’s reasonable, he has every right to withdraw if he’s in pain. I’m just wondering if he had a nerve breakdown there….And seems like everybody took it the hard way, well…being unpredictable is also a beauty of sports

Posted by Michelle | Report as abusive

He is the best. what happened yesterday was a tragedy to everyone.

Posted by Li | Report as abusive

I think he was really courageous. It must be hard to quit like that, with so many people cheering for you. You guys may be disappointed, but that is just so self-centered. I bet he feels really terrible himself, without so many people being disappointed because China is denied 1 gold medal. IF he got gold. No one knows, that’s obvious, but some people should think a bit more about the feelings of others. What would you guys do in his position? Run and injure yourself more? And as for saying that he sucks and all that, it doesn’t matter. They try, and that’s good enough. If you don’t think it’s good enough, then why dont you toil for months and years and try to prepare for something that people all over the world are competing in? If the pressure gets to him, I still think he’s justified. There are so many people, and a lot of them are depending on you and rooting for you. Either way, it’s a tough spot, and I think that I would’ve probably done something even more stupid. Nice try, Liu, and I still support you.

Posted by Cynthia | Report as abusive

Wilson, you have no idea what you’re talking about. The pressure Liu Xiang felt was probably a hundred thousand times that of Michael Phelps, not to detract from the amazing athlete Phelps is. To quote blogger James Fallows, “Liu has probably been under more individual pressure than any other person involved in these Games. It would be as if Michael Phelps were the only American ever to have won a gold medal in swimming — Liu’s position among Chinese male track and field athletes — and would be racing only once, in the 50-yard freestyle.”

Additionally, your comment about Phelps makes no sense. He has to eat those calories to maintain the energy for swimming. At least be smart when you’re trying to award someone a compliment.

My heart goes out to Liu Xiang. He must feel unimaginably upset and ashamed. Regardless of the outcome, he’s an incredible athlete, a Chinese pioneer. I hope to see him win more races!

Posted by Catherine | Report as abusive

Winning and losing is part of sports.
Don’t take it too seriously.

Posted by someone | Report as abusive

People complain when the chinese don’t show emotion during competition “no soul”, when fans cry and show emotion it’s called “over reaction” and round and round we spin. :)

Posted by fsc | Report as abusive

Yea, I agree with Catherine.

I wish Liu a speedy recovery. =/
Meanwhile, the rest of the Olympics is still exciting, too!

Posted by Cheng | Report as abusive

I waited for Liu Xiang’s 110m hurdles game in the Beijing Olympics for more than a year. I became an instant fan after his celebrated victory in the Athens Olympics. It was really hard for me to see him walking toward the tunnel. But even in all the sadness it gave me, I never felt that Liu Xiang failed me. It was even more probable that I failed him, along with his fans. Liu Xiang, I still wait for your next world record. See you in London! You are still my hero!


Regardless of what really happened or why, Liu Xiang now has a great chance to be a hero again. He can strive for the next Olympics – and show his country what a true Olympic Champion is – one who overcomes the greatest difficulty to achieve his or her best. The Olympics is about struggle and challenge and redemption thru sport. China claims it protects the Olympic Spirit, now its hero Liu Xiang alone has the one true opportunity to show the world that China indeed understands what the Olympic spirit is. He must continue and run in London. EVen if he doesn’t win Gold, he will have become a hero again. It is his duty, it is his fate. It was and is and has always been his destiny I think. This achievement will be greater than all the Gold medals he could have won in Beijing. I am not a big fan of Liu Xiang but I am a big fan of China, and now Liu can show the world that China is truly a great country.

Posted by Andrew from America | Report as abusive

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