One of China's most recognizable and widely followed athletes -- defending Olympic 110-meter hurdles champion Liu Xiang - suffered an injury Monday and will not compete as expected for an Olympic gold medal. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the deeply disappointing development.
For years, winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil has been the dream of the Chinese athletes training for the Beijing Games. Along with basketball star Yao Ming, 25-year-old Liu Xiang has been the face of the Olympics. He has been featured in countless billboard and television advertisements leading to the games.
But lurking all along was potential disaster. Liu's coach, Sun Hai Ping, says the track star has been dealing with an Achilles tendon problem for several years.
"It was a problem before the 2004 Athens Games," the coach explained. "The injury has been back and forth through his training and his rest through the years. And this is the main problem for [Monday's] performance."
Tens of thousands of fans routinely have filled stadiums just to watch Liu run and hurdle for a handful of seconds. And the same was true Monday. Fans sat bursting with pride and excitement as Liu settled into the starting blocks for a qualifying heat.
But after the crack of the starting gun and a false start by another runner, the capacity crowd sat stunned as they saw Liu grab his knee in pain. It was not his knee, but instead that nagging right Achilles tendon that had flared again. And in an instant, Liu Xiang was out of the Olympics.