Athens Games champion Liu Xiang’s jinx at the Olympics continued to chase him as he hit the first barrier, fell, and limped off the field, supported by fellow competitors onto a wheelchair at the finish, in the 110m hurdles heats at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday morning.
The Chinese star had failed to reach the first hurdle four years ago in Beijing as he was hampered by an Achilles injury. This time he went crashing onto the hurdle with his lead leg, the left.
He was seen holding his right ankle, however, after the fall, indicating that the old injury had acted up again, perhaps causing his crash.
An old injury
China team leader Feng Shuyong said that it was the old Achilles injury again, which Liu aggravated when he fell.
Liu hopped the length of the track on one leg to avoid further damage to the injured foot and put his head on the final hurdle as though bidding farewell to yet another Olympics.
He was then supported by several athletes who finished the same heat, and helped onto a wheelchair to reach medical support.
“The initial diagnosis from the medical staff is that he has snapped his Achilles tendon. In the last several years, he has had good medical care, but it is still there. An Achilles injury is almost impossible to recover from fully,” said Shuyong.
People noticed that Liu had the same bib number — 1356 — that he had sported during the Beijing Games.
His coach Sun Haiping had said that the hurdler was having foot problems during his training camp in Germany and had pulled out of the London Diamond League meet last month owing to a back problem.
In a touching gesture, most of the runners in the race waited for Liu Xiang at the finish to lend their shoulders and help him out. “I regard him the best hurdler in history and I have so much respect for him,” said Andy Turner of Britain, who won the heat featuring Liu.
Meanwhile, the World indoor champion Aries Merritt of the US asserted his status as the favourite with a run of 13.07 seconds, the fastest ever in the first round heats at the Olympics.
“It is a shame it happened to Liu. You make a mistake, you are out of the game. It is all about making the least amount of mistakes,” said Merritt, who felt the track to be “blisteringly fast.”
Liu had a 2-0 record against Merritt this season, though the American has been considered over the past few weeks as the favourite for the title here.
The defending champion and world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba also won his heat, in 13.33 seconds.