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Liu's dramatic withdrawal stuns Bird's Nest PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 August 2008

BEIJING, Aug 18 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - The biggest roar of the Beijing Olympics froze in the throats of 91,000 people in the National Stadium on Monday when Liu Xiang, China's main hope for athletics gold, pulled up injured and withdrew from the 110 metres hurdles.

Liu has shouldered massive expectations since becoming China's first male Olympic track champion four years ago and his duel with new world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba was expected to be one of the highlights of the Games.

But he came into the Games struggling with a long-standing Achilles injury and a hamstring strain, and felt more pain while warming up in the morning.

When he left the blocks in the last of Monday's heats, which was signalled a false start, he pulled up limping.

To the intense disappointment of the crowd and millions of TV-watching Chinese, he limped away into the bowels of a stadium which was supposed to be his to rule.

Double Olympic silver medallist Terrence Trammell of the United States also pulled up with a hamstring injury, seemingly clearing the path to gold for Robles in Thursday's final.

Liu's coach for 12 years, Sun Haiping, broke down and wept in an emotional news conference which even left Chinese journalists in tears.

Feng Shuyong, the head coach of the Chinese athletics team said: "Liu would not have withdrawn unless the pain was intolerable.

"Until last Saturday he was in good shape.

"We did all we could. I think all the Chinese people will understand this situation and will encourage him to come back to the track," added Feng, who said Liu had been suffering the Achilles/heel problem on his take-off leg for six or seven years.

LIVELY MORNING

Liu's stunningly anti-climatic departure left the stadium in gloom after what had been a lively morning of qualifying.

Usain Bolt was back two days after his world record victory in the 100 metres and began his bid for the cherished sprint double by easing through the opening heats of the 200 metres.

Bolt took to the track sporting new golden shoes emblazoned "Beijing 200m" and, unlike with the "100m" version he wore on Saturday, this time the laces were firmly tied.

Nicaragua's Juan Zeledon had barely left his blocks before the big Jamaican gobbled him up and after smoothly negotiating the bend he eased home in 20.64 seconds, just behind Trinidad and Tobago's Rondell Sorillo.

Defending champion Shawn Crawford, Wallace Spearmon and 100 metres bronze medallist Walter Dix, from the U.S., also went through comfortably but the fastest qualifier was Brian Dzingai of Zimbabwe in 20.25 seconds.

The second round is on Monday evening with the semi-finals on Tuesday and final on Wednesday.

Jeremy Wariner, LaShawn Merrit and David Neville, another strong U.S threesome, went through safely in the 400 metres. "It was a nice, easy low 45," said Wariner, the world and Olympic champion, after clocking 45.23."

There was relief in the triple jump pit for Britain's Phillips Idowu after the favourite qualified for Thursday's final with the biggest jump of the heats.

Idowu, who fouled all three jumps in the Athens final four years ago, touched down with 17.44 metres on his first attempt.

Cuban Yipsi Moreno led the way in qualifying in the women's hammer but Croatia's Ivana Brkljacic, who arrived as a medal hope, did not make it and blamed it on the cage being too close.

Six medals are up for grabs in the evening session in women's discus, pole vault and 800 metres including the women's 800 metres and men's 400m hurdles.

Six medals are up for grabs in the evening session, including the women's 800 metres and men's 400m hurdles.

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