CCTV chiefs gagged over hurdler Liu Xiang's injury at London Olympics
State broadcaster knew that top athlete was unfit before he crashed out at first hurdle
State television bosses on the mainland knew sporting icon Liu Xiang was seriously injured at the London Olympics, but were prevented from saying so by a government gagging order.
Millions of fans were stunned when Liu crashed to the track in agony after hitting the first barrier in his 110 metres hurdles heat.
It was later revealed he had a torn right Achilles tendon - the same injury that forced him to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics four years earlier.
But it has now emerged that representatives of China Central Television (CCTV) knew that Liu was injured when he arrived in London. And they were stopped from revealing the truth by the propaganda authorities.
A senior editor of CCTV's Olympics broadcasting team told the South China Morning Post yesterday that the gagging order was issued the day after Liu arrived in London on August 3.
It was believed Liu had over-exerted himself while training in Germany and that his team knew he was injured.
In London, Liu immediately went to see a medical expert and was told the injury was severe, said the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
He added: "Instructions were circulated among our colleagues saying it should be considered a victory as long as Liu showed up to the starting line."
Liu, himself, appeared to downplay the severity of his injury before last month's Olympics in his first interview after the games on CCTV last night.
"I didn't expect this [injury] could happen. I think I was healthy when I was standing on the field," he said.
"But when the race started, I suddenly felt someone lashed my feet [as with a whip]. I didn't know how it happened."
And yet, the CCTV source said Liu admitted during the interview last night that he was injured during the training in Germany and "spent some tough time fighting against the injuries." However, the remark was not aired last night.
When Liu collapsed in London, CCTV presenter Yang Jian wept live on air.
"He is like a soldier without a gun in his hand," he told viewers. "All he can do is charge at the enemy's fortress with his own body. Goodbye, Liu Xiang."
In the days that followed, Liu's injury and Yang's weeping were the subject of much internet discussion on the mainland. It prompted Yang to deny his display of emotion was an act.
But at CCTV's review meeting, the director of the station's Olympics narration team, Sha Tong , revealed that Yang knew of the severity of Liu's injury beforehand.
This was reported by various mainland media organisations, including the online version of People's Daily.
According to the reports, Yang prepared four possible scripts for Liu's exit, under instruction from officials.
"Liu Xiang knew, CCTV knew, team officials knew. Only the audience was waiting foolishly for a miracle to happen," said the Oriental Guardian, based in Nanjing , yesterday.
Liu's coach, Sun Haiping , even told the media after Liu arrived in London: "Now the problem is that the old injury to his foot has started acting up again."
But after Liu's exit, Feng Shuyong , head coach of the Chinese athletics team, said: "Had we known of Liu Xiang's injury, we would have prevented him from taking part, and we would never have forced Liu to take part. Our main concern is protecting athletes."
Liu had surgery in London and returned to Shanghai last week saying that he hoped to compete again. But it remains unclear whether Liu will retire.