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China's Liu Xiang pulls out of 110m hurdles

Last Updated: Monday, August 18, 2008 | 3:34 AM ET

China's Liu Xiang leaves Beijing's National Stadium with a foot injury on Monday. China's Liu Xiang leaves Beijing's National Stadium with a foot injury on Monday. (Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Defending Olympic champion Liu Xiang of China left a crowd of 91,000 in stunned silence at Beijing's National Stadium as he withdrew from the men's 110-metre hurdles with a right foot injury on Monday.

Liu, the former world record holder and China's biggest track star, winced as he settled into the starting block, slapping the back of his right heel to dull the pain.

Liu hobbled to the first hurdle as he broke from the block on a false start, ripped off the competitor's number pinned to his leg and limped out of the stadium.

No runner was disqualified, but Chinese fans stood in disbelief as their hero departed down the tunnel — his medal hopes and those of a nation of 1.3 billion dashed by injury.

"They will be disappointed," said Wang Wei, executive vice-president of the Olympic organizing committee. "But they understand when somebody has an accident, you cannot help it."

"I feel like I am being fooled," said Yu Zuoliang, a student in Beijing. "What happened to him?"

"I think he may have wanted to win too much and could have caved under the pressure," said a suspicious He Shen. "The injury may be an excuse."

Liu's personal coach, Sun Haiping, revealed at a hastily called media conference that the star hurdler has been hampered by a tendon problem for six or seven years.

"We worked hard every day, but the result was as you see and it is really hard to take," a tearful Sun told reporters through a translator. "It is the end of the Achilles tendon in his right foot.

"I'm afraid he won't be able to compete before the end of the year. He can barely walk, he was in tears and he is very depressed."

Tendon flared up Aug. 9

CBC Sports reported Liu's tendon flared up Aug. 9, and that he experienced pain where the bone meets the tendon.

Liu's handlers were worried about him running four races in four days, but he felt obligated to compete, even though he felt a twinge of pain in the warm-up.

"Even though he felt pain, he decided to compete in the first heat," Sun said. "Liu would not withdraw unless the pain was intolerable and there was no other way out."

"When you see the crowd, you realize why he had to come out," British hurdler Alan Scott said.

Minutes before the race, Liu cleared only two hurdles as he warmed up, pulling up and crouching down to clutch the back of his right heel.

"We have taken an MRI and the problem is in his tendon," Sun said. "We also have worries about his bones.

"Liu's bone in his foot is different from ordinary people. It is larger [and] it has developed into a hard bump."

Trained in seclusion

Liu, 25, trained in seclusion all summer amid reports that he was desperately trying to recover from an inflamed Achilles tendon.

He hasn't competed in more than two months, since a hamstring injury forced him to pull out of a meet in New York on May 31.

A week later, he was disqualified for a false start at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., and hadn't raced since.

"First, there are two injuries — one in his leg [hamstring] and one in his foot [tendon]" Sun said. "The injury in his foot was a cumulative injury.

"We don't know when he was hurt. But it has been a problem for six or seven years.

"It was a problem before the Athens Games and the injury has been back and forth [since]. It was the main problem with today's performance."

Liu won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in a record time of 12.91, and later set the world mark of 12.88 in 2006.

Dayron Robles of Cuba ran 12.87 to break Liu's world mark on June 12.

Robles, who breezed to victory in Monday's opening heat in 13.39, is now favoured to win the gold at Beijing.

"I'm going to do what Usain Bolt did," he said, referring to the Jamaican's world record in the 100m.

"The track is perfect. Anything is possible in the final."

With files from the Associated Press