Fans share Liu's pain, while some express anger
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Peter So
Chinese fans were stunned by Liu Xiang's fall in his Olympics 110 metre hurdles heat yesterday, with some sympathetic, others disappointed, still others angry and some suspicious about the circumstances of his failure.
Liu, 29, who won gold in the event at the Athens Games of 2004, crashed out at the first hurdle of his opening heat, four years after injury cost him the chance to defend his title in Beijing.
Within minutes of him tumbling to the track in London's Olympic stadium, microblogging sites were flooded with tens of thousands of comments. Many, including celebrities and entertainers, sent their support and best wishes to Liu, whose injury to his right Achilles was aggravated in the fall, according to Xinhua.
'It's okay and there are many more hurdles ahead in life to get over. Fight!' said pop singer Faye Wong on Sina Weibo.
Bai Yansong, a commentator from China Central Television, said Liu did better than four years ago in Beijing, when he shocked the home crowd with his withdrawal in his heat without clearing a hurdle because of a problem with his right foot that later required surgery.
'At least he made the attempt this time. For an athlete like Liu Xiang, he has achieved a lot of successes and made great efforts over the past four years to stand ready again for the Olympics. Despite regrets, let's pray for him,' he said on TV.
Some on the mainland felt Liu may have been affected by the huge expectations from the public and media - the hurdler once admitted he was aware that 1.3 billion pairs of eyes would be on him again. But others, obviously frustrated and bitter about another Olympic anti-climax, questioned the readiness of Liu.
'It is simply unacceptable to say his fall was purely a technical mistake,' said microblogger Ma Xisheng.
As was the case four years ago, Liu's disappointing Olympic show sparked harsh criticism, with some accusing him and his coach of withholding information about his injuries.
'How come Liu did not spend much time doing warm-up in such chilly weather? Even state television reporters spotted it,' said Zhao Jing, an online commentator also known as Anti.
He had a point. TV footage showed other runners flying over the hurdles in their warm-ups, while Liu, with his right foot protected by yellow tape, only jogged to the first hurdle.
'It appeared to be a staged show as Liu tried to fool the mainland public while pleasing his sponsors,' lamented another microblogger.
Critics said Liu's fall came as no surprise because mainlanders had been bombarded with propaganda in state media which had indicated Liu would fail and called for calm.
Xinhua issued a commentary early yesterday hailing Liu a hero just for competing at the London Olympics while struggling with his injuries.
'It is unrealistic to expect him to win a gold medal. He may surprise us if his injuries are not so bad; but it is hard to predict what would happen if that is not the case,' it said.
A CCTV reporter in London said the propaganda authorities had issued gag orders. 'An instruction was circulated among our colleagues on Monday, saying it should be considered a victory as long as Liu showed up at the starting line.'
Other mainland reporters said on Sina Weibo that they had received orders from propaganda authorities banning critical coverage of Liu.
In Hong Kong, Lobo Louie Hung-tak, associate professor of physical education at Baptist University, questioned the athlete's preparations. 'Liu only flew back to London this week after training in Germany. He might not have been able to recover or adapt to the environment in time,' Louie said. 'It doesn't appear to be the recurrence of his Achilles problem, because Liu has maintained good form this season so far.'
Sun Haiping, Liu's coach, revealed last week that Liu's foot injury had flared up when he went to Germany to fine-tune his build-up.
Professor Joanne Chung Wai-yee, head of the Institute of Education's department of health and physical education, said Liu looked relaxed before he started. 'I don't think his injury was related to psychological problems or pressure,' she said. 'From the television footage, Liu looked fine before he jumped the hurdle. Therefore, I believe his injury was incurred when he tried to jump.'
Many also began soul-searching about China's much-criticised approach to sport, which focuses on gold medals at the expense of promoting sports at grass-roots level.
'In a country where only a few primary and middle schools have sports fields or physical exercises, it is ridiculous to count on Liu to save our face,' said Huang Jianxiang, a sports commentator, on Sina Weibo. 'Liu's past glory used to be a shield to justifying the juguo tizhi [whole nation system], but the failure has rendered it useless today.'
Additional reporting by Laura Zhou, Keith Zhai