LONDON -- Liu Xiang won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but his most inspiring performance was Tuesday morning in a race he officially did not finish.
Liu has run swiftly and cleared hurdles gracefully enough to be an Olympic champion and world-record holder. Heading into the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was the face of the Chinese team, but when it came time to run, he injured his right Achilles tendon and withdrew from the race.
Liu had hoped to rebound in London, only to have his body fail him again Tuesday. As he got into the starting blocks for the last heat of the morning, he wore protective tape around the tendon. In a race that saw almost half the hurdlers fail to finish, Poland's Artur Noga pulled up immediately with an apparent right hamstring injury in the lane next to Liu. Then Liu also went down before the first hurdle.
Unable to power his body over the hurdle, Liu collapsed against it with his left leg and crashed to the track. As the race went on without him, he sat on the track, rubbing his ankle.
After a few minutes, he stood up and hopped off to the side of the track. He then returned to the track and hopped to the finish line on one leg.
When Liu reached the end, Hungary's Balazs Baji lifted Liu's arm in a gesture of triumph. Great Britain's Andy Turner and Spain's Jackson Quinonez put their arms around Liu and helped him off the track. He left the stadium in a wheelchair.
"Even though he fell down, he stood up and hopped to the end line. That truly shows the spirit of the Olympics," Chinese team leader Feng Shuyong said. "Winning is important, but he still was determined to go to the end line."
Feng said Liu might have ruptured the tendon, but he still was awaiting test results.
"It was horrible to see him limp off like that, so I had to go and help him," Turner told reporters after the prelim. "When you medal with someone, you have a connection with them, and after last year's world championships, we always say hello and try and have a chat. He's a nice guy and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."
Turner said he noticed Liu rubbing his Achilles at a race in July and again Tuesday morning. Feng acknowledged the tendon has never really recovered from 2008. "The injury is the same one he had in Beijing," he said. "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."
Feng added that because preparing for the Olympic schedule provides little recovery time, Liu might have overtrained and placed excess strain on the tendon. Still, he said he thought Liu would be able to compete and the injury was unexpected.
"When this kind of thing happens, normally the athlete didn't have any sign before that. It was just something that happened," Feng said.
"It's really hard for him because I think he's one of the best, hands down," said Usain Bolt. "He showed he can do great things. For him to really push himself and come back last year and then have this injury, it's sad for any athlete."