Giant on the move
Gary Hershorn writes: Without question the story of the day is Liu Xiang walking off the track.
When the unexpected story happens in front of you it’s a stressful few minutes as you try and understand what is going on and then decide how to illustrate the story. The most important thing to remember is that we are journalists and we must find a way to show what happened.
Usually in this situation you come up with a storytelling picture rather then a great photo and this picture of Liu Xiang pulling his numbers off his legs tells the story of an athlete pulling out of the competition.
PHOTO: Liu Xiang of China tears off a number tag before the start of his 110m hurdles heat of the athletics competition in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008. Liu failed to start his 110 metres hurdles first-round heat on Monday. After one false start Liu stopped before the first hurdle clutching his leg and then walked out of the stadium. REUTERS/David Gray
“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
Liu Xiang’s quest to win a home Olympic gold ended before it had begun on Monday, as an injury prevented the 110 metre hurdler from starting his first heat.
China’s world and Olympic champion, the host nation’s best hope of an athletics gold medal at the Beijing Games, pulled up after a false start and walked off the track, stunning the huge crowd at the Bird’s Nest stadium into silence.
We set off last Friday to see the titanic building and a relatively low-key athletics meeting mainly contested by young Chinese athletes.
Liu Xiang, China’s top athlete, was the undoubted star of the show at the China Open Beijing Olympic test event at the Bird’s Nest last weekend and cruised to an easy victory over a weak field in the 110 metres hurdles.
Such is the national obession with his retaining his Olympic title in August, though, that two false starts in three days caused some consternation among his many fans.
So far, though, there has been no word on the rules and regulations that will prevent the world’s most enthusiastic smokers from puffing away while watching the Games this August.