Giant on the move
“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.
We 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