Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 10 2AM Update: BREAKING NEWS - Liu Xiang Drops Out of Olympics

BREAKING NEWS coming into the NOW Sports Newsroom:

Actually, this news came out just a couple of hours ago, but its definitely worth mentioning. Liu Xiang, the country's hopeful to win a gold medal in the Men's 110m hurdle final on Thursday night, has pulled out of the event, citing a strained right achilles tendon. The following report is from the Associated Press:

Hurdler Liu Xiang done without a run in Olympics

BEIJING (AP)—Liu Xiang and the entire nation of China looked forward to this moment for years: The defending Olympic champion lining up to run the 110-meter hurdles at the Beijing Games.

He didn’t even get to race.

Already grimacing before getting into his crouch, Liu pulled up lame just steps into the first round of qualifying Monday, leaving the Summer Games’ host country without one of its biggest stars—and far and away its biggest star in track and field.

He limped out of the block at the starting gun, took a few awkward steps, then pulled up when the second gun sounded to signal a false start. No one is disqualified by an initial false start, yet Liu tore the pieces of paper with his number off each leg and immediately headed for a tunnel.

While the other entrants in his heat prepared for the restart, Liu took a slow walk along a concrete path leading away from the rust-colored track where he was supposed to thrill a nation of 1.3 billion people.

Instead, he sat against a wall alone, that smiling face that adorns so many advertising billboards now sullen.

“We worked hard every day, but the result was as you see, and it’s really hard to take,” Liu’s personal coach, Sun Haiping, said at a news conference the hurdler did not attend.

Sun, who paused to wipe away tears while answering questions, said Liu was bothered by a right foot injury that has lingered for six or seven years—and not the right hamstring that has dogged him for months. The foot pain intensified Saturday.

There were signs of trouble as soon as Liu made his first appearance on the Bird’s Nest’s big screen. Once on the track, he stopped after clearing two hurdles during the warmup period, then crouched down and walked gingerly back to the starting area.

He peeled off his red shirt when others were lining up behind the blocks and seemed to wait forever before pulling a new jersey over his head.

“In watching warmups, we could see he wasn’t quite as strong as you expect him to be,” said former world record-holder Colin Jackson. “But we didn’t know it was as bad as it turned out to be.”

Liu’s hamstring problem forced him to pull out of a meet in New York on May 31—the same night Usain Bolt first broke the world record in the 100 meters.

A week later, Liu lined up for the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., but was disqualified for a false start. He hasn’t raced since and only rarely has made public appearances, training in seclusion.

The 25-year-old hurdler is as much a celebrity here as Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. Thursday night’s 110-meter hurdles final was expected to be one of the highlights of these Olympics: China’s Liu vs. Cuba’s Dayron Robles, the man who broke Liu’s world record in June—with 91,000 fans crowding into the Bird’s Nest to cheer on their man.

Liu’s withdrawal was by far the most stunning development on Day 4 of the track and field competition—of far more significance than any races that actually were run, including 100-meter champion Usain Bolt’s advancing to the second round in the 200.

“A 110-meter hurdles race without Liu is such a pity,” said Qatar’s Mohammed Issa Al-Thawadi, who was lined up in the adjacent lane for Liu’s heat. “I feel so bad for him.”

Liu Xiang of China leaves the track without starting his 110m hurdles heat of the athletics competition in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008.  After one false start Liu stopped before the first hurdle clutching his leg and then walked out of the stadium.     REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA)

Now Robles, who won his heat in 13.39 seconds and well off his world record time of 12.87, becomes the clear favorite.

Yet another of the top contenders departed Monday when two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell of the United States grabbed the second hurdle and limped off the track with an injured left leg.

That was moments before Liu’s turn to take to the track. It’s been quite clear for quite some time that he would be under a tremendous amount of pressure at these Olympics, and yet Liu has insisted he didn’t feel it.

There was no way to know exactly what he was thinking Monday, because he didn’t speak to reporters.

And his countrymen?

“I think they will be disappointed,” said Wang Wei, executive vice president of the games’ organizing committee. “But they will understand. When somebody has an accident, you can’t help it.”

The exits of Liu and Trammell leave David Oliver, thought to be running as consistently as any of the U.S. hurdlers of late, as a serious medal candidate. His personal best of 12.95 seconds is only 0.08 second off Robles’ world record.

Asked before Liu lined up for his heat whether he knew that his Chinese rival appeared to be hurting badly, Robles said he didn’t care.

“I’m going to do what Usain Bolt did,” the Cuban said when asked about breaking his hurdles world record. “The track is perfect. Anything is possible in the final.”

No comments:

BEIJING 2008 Tentative NBC Schedule (BLOG POSTS BELOW...)