Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 12:55 UK

Heartbreak over hurdler Liu's exit

By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Beijing

Liu Xiang retires from the race
Chinese people had had extremely high hopes of hurdler Liu Xiang

Chinese fans stopped cheering the moment they saw hurdler Liu Xiang down on all fours in pain on the track during warm-up.

He took his position with the other athletes and jumped out of the blocks when the starting pistol fired.

It was a false start, but it did not matter. Liu Xiang - China's most famous Olympic athlete - was injured.

He pulled off the number that was stuck on his leg and walked out of the Bird's Nest stadium in front of a disbelieving audience.

Heartbroken Chinese fans streamed out of the stadium.

"It's such a shame," said Shi Lin, as her eyes welled up. "Everyone was looking forward to this event."

'Icing on the cake'

China already has more gold medals than it won in Athens, but its people really wanted this one.

Ding Yanlei and daughter Ding Zhaoyi
Ding Yanlei said Liu Xiang gave people hope of greater track success

"We don't have many good athletes in track events in Asia," said Ding Yanlei. "Liu Xiang gave us hope of excelling in this area."

Liu Xiang earned the nickname "flying man" after he broke the Olympic record for the 110m hurdles in 2004.

After he dropped out of this Olympic race, one local newspaper wrote that he had "taken off his wings".

"We really didn't want to give him so much pressure," said fan Hu Cunfang, as she walked out of the stadium.

"But Liu Xiang winning the gold in these Games would have been the icing on the cake for Chinese people."

Ms Hu said China's top athlete had dropped out of a few races before because of injury.

But she added: "I never thought he would drop out in the preliminaries."

Television tribute

Chinese fans across the country were distraught. Some cried as they watched events unfold on television.

Coach Sun Haiping cries during a press conference after the withdrawal
Liu Xiang's coach Sun Haiping broke down in a news conference

Coverage of the event was sombre on national TV.

China's main broadcaster, CCTV, ran a tribute to Liu Xiang moments after his exit.

They played the song "Dying in the Sun" by pop group The Cranberries over footage of Liu Xiang hobbling after a false start and walking out of the stadium.

Well-known CCTV presenter Dong Rina cried in front of the cameras after revealing that Liu Xiang ran 12.80 seconds during practice last week. That would have broken both the Olympic and World records.

Ms Dong said: "I know that Liu Xiang made this decision today after braving his injuries and overcoming all the pressure put on him in past competitions."

The anticipation surrounding Liu Xiang was so great that the asking price for tickets for the 110m hurdles final started at around 3,000 yuan ($436, 233) each.

Those tickets do not seem nearly as attractive now.

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