Former Olympic gold medalist hurdler and golden boy for millions of Chinese, Liu Xiang, limped off the track today, taking away with him the hopes of defending the gold and reclaiming his world record from Cuba’s Dayron Robles.
Within minutes there were already 8000 Chinese commenting on the shocking turn of events. Some understanding, others, not so much. Perhaps among the angry ones are those who placed their bets on Liu and failed to pay heed to his hamstring injuries that were reported last month.
The star athlete took to the starting blocks with grimaces of pain etched across his face and reached back to slap his right achilles. NBC Olympics reported it as an achilles injury, with a report from Liu Xiang’s coach last week claiming that the runner was “very close to his best form.”
VIDEO UPDATE: For those outside of China who were unable to catch the five minute blip of airtime given to this by NBC, we certainly found it hard to believe that he was faking after watching this clip a few times…
VIDEO UPDATE (8.19.08): A collected Sun Haiping gives another press conference.
The original press conference moments after Liu Xiang pulled out
UPDATE (1:39 PM): Sun Haiping, Liu Xiang’s coach, bawls his eyes out on national TV commiserating the feelings of millions of fans, and at least one CCTV reporter.
Followed quickly by a video montage of Liu Xiang set to Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman’s “You and Me”
UPDATE (1:40 PM): GlobalVoices translates some of the initial reactions from the Chinese Fanfou community. Among these are the superstitious who attribute the injury to an Adidas ad curse that has taken down China’s women’s volleyball team, and football (soccer) player, Zhengzhi, and now Liu Xiang…
Others suggest conspiracy theories:
This really is a wonderful conspiracy!
These past few days I have been thinking constantly about how strong Robles is, much stronger than Liu Xiang. How can Liu deal with this? If he loses the race, which is highly probable, then his commercial value would of course plummet, as would his popularity. What would I do if I were him?
And what we have seen today is what Liu can do to achieve maximum profitability. He retained people’s compassion and his popularity, and most importantly, commercial value. I really have to admire the brains behind this operation.
UPDATE (2:20 PM): The Guardian picks up the story while trying to create a new trend in shortening those pesky Chinese names? They refer to coach Sun Haiping as “Haiping,” and Liu Xiang, as “Xiang.” We are skeptical whether this will catch on.
UPDATE (2:30 PM): Some observations from Chinese Twitterland shows the aftermath of Liu Xiang’s sudden departure.
@celia1205 (in translation): “I was in the M photography area, very near Liu Xiang, when he entered the Bird’s Nest the entire sea of people began shouting his welcome, when he left people quickly changed from amazement to anger. Before the event was even finished, many people left. This country really cannot stand to lose, it’s terrible.”
@buchimifan (in translation): There are people who are actually talking about getting a refund! Geez! When it was discovered that parts of the opening ceremony were fake no one talked about getting a refund, but when Liu Xiang withdraws which is completely normal within the realm of sports they start hollering for a refund! Is it that these people will not be satisfied until Liu Xiang has run himself into a total cripple before deciding they have gotten their money’s worth?”
VIDEO UPDATE (8.19.08): Wall Street Journal interviews people on the streets of Beijing about how they feel about the Liu Xiang’s withdrawal.
UPDATE (8.19.08): Various reactions from English language and foreign media…
- Forget about long-term disability, what about the sponsors? New York Times speculates on how Liu Xiang’s multi-million dollar endorsements will find a way to market upon misfortune or pull themselves out of the game as well.
- Liu Xiang’s former coach, Gu Baogang, rails against the China sports system which he claims destroys athletes while they are still in their prime.
- Chinese netizens continue to flood the forums and BBSs with their reactions, but the overwhelming majority are sympathizers.
- So much for insurance… Liu Xiang’s 100 million RMB policy with Ping An Insurance does not cover the injury that has taken him out of the Olympics.
Addendum: Thanks to reader Michael Darragh for pointing out the fact that Liu Xiang is not actually sponsored by Adidas. He endorses Nike.