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Liu Xiang dramatically dropped out of his 110 meters hurdle heat this morning spelling the end of China's best hope for a track and field gold. The 2004 Olympic champion apparently injured his right ankle while warming up before the race.
In the last heat of the first round, Liu quit after setting off in what turned out to be a false start. He limped off the track, obviously troubled by a foot injury.
With the hopes of 1.3 billion resting on his performance, many people had speculated on the how the 25 year old athlete would cope with the psychological strain imposed by the nation's expectations.
"He is very aware that the entire Chinese people are focusing their hopes on him," his father said recently.
Liu's coach Sun Haiping burst into tears when answering questions during a press-conference following the heat. "He kept fighting and fighting to the last moment", he said.
Feng Shuyong, head coach of China's athletics team admitted that Liu's role as China's poster boy piled the pressure on the young athlete. "Every time Liu goes out, he sees his own picture", he said.
Feng also said Liu had aggravated an old tendon injury during a training session on Saturday.
Pressure on Liu increased on June 12 when Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles shaved 0.01 seconds off Liu Xiang’s world record.
Robles had earlier breezed through to the next round, clocking 13.39 seconds.
He said, "I'm in perfect form today, and the conditions are right for me to set a new world record."
Without Liu and Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell of the United States, who fell during his heat, Robles is the clear favorite to take the gold medal.
Liu's teammates Shi Dongpeng and Ji Wei qualified for the next round.
(China.org.cn by John Sexton, Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2008)