Liu Xiang a victor in Olympic spirit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 3:31pm

Champions are remembered for their victories, but they are defined by the way they handle defeat. Hurdler Liu Xiang made China proud by winning its first Olympic track-and-field gold medal in Athens in 2004 in world-record equalling time, instantly becoming a national icon. In a system where nothing short of taking first place will do, his withdrawal from the 110-metre hurdles with an Achilles tendon injury in Beijing four years later was met with scorn and anger. As he fell at the first hurdle in the heats in London on Tuesday, though, the groans of disbelief quickly vanished as he showed himself to be a truly great sportsman.

Liu sat on the track clutching the same right Achilles tendon, as the field roared to the finish line. A Chinese television commentator wept openly; others called for sympathy. After several attempts, the athlete struggled to his feet and hobbled to the stadium's exit tunnel. Then came the moment we will always remember, an image that will be indelibly stamped as a highlight of the London Games.

He paused, turned, and faced the track as if it was an adversary, then, on his left foot, hopped back and finished the race, stopping at the last hurdle to bend and kiss it before crossing the line. To a standing ovation from the 80,000-strong crowd, Hungarian competitor Balazs Baji raised Liu's arm in triumph, then the winner, Britain's Andrew Turner, and Spain's Jackson Quinonez, helped him off. It was the Olympic spirit on show for all to see - participation, camaraderie and coming together of the world's people are as important as the winning.

China's state-run athletics system lacks that spirit. Only gold will do, as was shown last week when weightlifter Wu Jingbiao, who had won a silver medal, broke down in tears for 'shaming the motherland'. Being the best in the world is a goal and if it can be attained, a matter of pride, but not the be all and end all of sport. The manner in which the world saluted Liu proves that. A winner or not, he represents the heart and soul of sport, and for that we can be proud.





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