News18 Aug 2008

Shocking exit – Liu Xiang unable to overcome injury


Liu Xiang walks off the track injured (© Getty Images)

This morning’s Athletics session here at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest had been expected by the whole Chinese population as the day Liu Xiang would begin his acclaimed campaign to retain the Olympic title he had taken four years ago at the Athens Games.

Unfortunately, for the defending champion and his 1.3 billion supporters, his race ended after three strides.

Rumours had started among the specialised journalists after Xiang confided in 2005 World champion Ladji Doucouré during warm up that he felt unable to compete. Television images confirmed Xiang’s injury scare as he was seen limping in the warm up area. A true competitor Xiang went through the healing hands of three different medical experts and the excruciating pain to step on the track in front of no fewer than 91,000 spectators.

Coach apologises for Xiang's injury

Visibly grimacing in agony and limping up and down the track, Liu set in the blocks at the starter’s orders but could only manage three steps before badly hobbling towards the first barrier. As runners were recalled when Marcel van der Westen jumped the gun, the Olympic champion stripped his lane numbers off his baggy shorts and exited through the stadium tunnel at the back of the start.

This time, the pain was too much.

Reportedly a group of 47 family members, neighbours and friends travelled from Shanghai two days ago to encourage Xiang. The intensity of the athlete’s, the coach’s, the nation’s and the world’s disappointment is hard to describe. Thousands of people were seen crying in shock, in horror, in despair.

“I want to apologize to everyone for Liu Xiang’s injury,” said long-time personal coach Sun Haiping before repeatedly breaking down in tears. “I feel very bad for this result. I feel bad for Liu Xiang and I feel bad for all the people in China.”

Assisted by Dr Feng Shu Yong, the Chinese Athletics Association Team leader, Sun confirmed that Xiang’s withdrawal was caused by the accumulation of two separate injuries: a leg injury which he suffered back in May but which had completely healed coming to Beijing and a chronic right foot injury which intensified last Saturday.

Three doctors assist Liu Xiang

“Liu Xiang has suffered from these problems back and forth for the last six, seven years,” said Sun. “When we arrived at the Olympic Village on 16 August, Liu Xiang underwent an MRI which revealed a problem in his tendon.”

Feng, whose priority was to praise Liu Xiang for his phenomenal achievements over the past four years, confirmed that the 25-year-old’s troubles had indeed been a recurrent feature in the past four years but “there have been measures taken on his injuries and as you could all witness in the last few years he was able to maintain his training regime and compete well through the injury.”

“As you have all seen, Liu Xiang is an athlete with great perseverance and stability. No matter what position he’s in he never drops out so easily. Under the guidance of his coach Sun Haiping he had great training in the winter and although we experienced some difficulties in the US and decided not to run in New York as a precautionary measure, Liu Xiang took some measures and made some adjustments. Until last Saturday he was in excellent shape.

“The injury on his foot intensified while he was training on Saturday but after experts and doctors examined his foot, his injury was eased and he was still very confident.

“As you know there might always be something unexpected happening during warm up and this morning as he was warming up his pain intensified again.

“Even though he was in terrible pain, Liu Xiang warmed up fully at 100% and after receiving treatment from three different doctors he decided to compete in the first round.

Too much pressure on the heel

“I have seen the whole process,” confirmed Feng. “There was huge difficulty but still he was very determined. But no matter what the doctors did, there was nothing that could be done. He could not even stand up as the injury was on his heel of his take off leg. There was too much pressure on the heel.”

“We have done everything possible for Liu Xiang to compete. At times he was shivering, the pain was so intense. The pain was almost intolerable. Still when he went on the track he had the strongest will, he wanted to compete but obviously you all saw the pain on his face.”

Feng was questioned about the immense pressure Liu Xiang found himself under going into the biggest sporting event: “Liu Xiang is a great athlete, he is unique. He can stand the pressure than no other athlete is able to stand."

People will understand

“As the Games approached the pressure mounted but he took the matter very relaxed and just concentrated on his training. It was also a great motivation for him."

“As far as I know everyone expected him to do well and to repeat his gold medal from Athens. It was the wish of all the Chinese people and also people in other countries. But I believe a lot of people are showing understanding. We actually ran a poll on the Internet about 6 months ago asking Chinese people how they would react if Liu Xiang didn’t win and 60% responded that they would show understanding."

“I believe the Chinese people will encourage him to overcome these problems and come back to the track and achieve great performances."

“I have just spoken to him and he's very depressed. Liu Xiang would not withdraw unless the pain is unbearable,” Feng concluded.

And today, in front of the biggest audience in the world, Liu Xiang experienced nothing less than unbearable pain.

Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF

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