Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Chinese hurdler falls from grace

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Liu Xiang prepares to race at the Olympics on 18 August 2008
Liu Xiang's exit from the Beijing Olympics broke hearts across China

Last year, as he prepared to take part in the Beijing Olympic Games, Chinese athlete Liu Xiang could do no wrong.

The Shanghai-born hurdler had already won an Olympic gold medal in Athens in 2004 and been selected to become a national political adviser.

But his image took a battering when he pulled out of the Olympics because of injury. And now some say he is failing to carry out his political duties.

Seldom can such a popular figure have fallen from favour so quickly.

"Thirteen seconds was more than enough for Liu Xiang to cross 10 hurdles and grab an Olympic gold medal," ran a story by the state-run news agency Xinhua.

"But it took the Chinese hurdler two years to arrive at the political arena," it added, referring to Liu's seeming reluctance to do his political job.

Media criticism

Liu Xiang became one of China's most famous people when he won the 110m hurdles final at the Athens Olympics.

He was the first Chinese man to win an Olympic track gold. Fans, the media and advertisers could not get enough of him.

But injury forced the 25-year-old to pull up during the first round of the hurdles in Beijing. People across the country were distraught.

Opening ceremony of the CPPCC on 3 March 2009
Liu Xiang's absence from the CPPCC has been noted by the Chinese press

They started to question his commitment immediately after his Olympic withdrawal and worried about him as he struggled to recover from the Achilles tendon injury.

"If I get injured again, I will say goodbye to this sport," he was reported as saying.

Now he is drawing criticism for turning his back on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which is in session at the moment.

This national body holds its annual meeting alongside the country's national parliament and is supposed to offer advice to China's top leaders.

Liu Xiang was selected as a CPPCC delegate last year, but could not attend the 2008 session because he was preparing for the Olympics.

This year he did not turn up either until Tuesday because he had been in the US receiving treatment for his injury.

"Less than two days before the end of the CPPCC, Liu Xiang cut short his treatment and arrived in Beijing," noted the Beijing News.

Xinhua pointed out that the hurdler had found time to return to his home city before coming to Beijing, in an unusually harsh attack on the athlete.

One Internet commentator added: "These people are chosen to be delegates just because of an achievement. It is such nonsense."

Liu Xiang steered well clear of the debate surrounding his political job.

"As a new political adviser, I am honoured to be here to perform my duty," he said, according to Xinhua.

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