Don't expect miracles from Liu Xiang, is the message being sent out by senior athletics officials as China's star hurdler recuperates from a recent Achilles' operation in Houston, the adopted home of fellow Shanghai native, NBA all-star Yao Ming.
Liu Xiang quits men's 110m hurdles on August 18, 2008 at Beijing Olympic Games.
Liu will struggle to return to his best form in the first half of this year despite the fact that his rehabilitation is going well, officials stressed, as they downplayed his chances at the upcoming IAAF world championships.
"If Liu were to get back in training in April, then he would still only have four months to prepare for the world championships in August, which is not enough time," said Luo Chaoyi, director of China's Athletics Administrative Center.
"Therefore, we have no specific requirement concerning Liu's result at the worlds."
Liu had an operation on his right Achilles' tendon one month ago, several months after he was unable to try and defend his 110m Olympic gold medal at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing due to the strain of over-training.
Some claimed this makes the world championships merely a warm-up for Liu to defend his honor at the next Summer Games in 2012, an idea Luo said was unlikely to bear fruit.
"A top athlete (like Liu) is only in his prime for three to five years," he said. "Once he has passed his peak, it is almost impossible for him to get back to it."
The coach said the next Olympiad - referring to the four-year cycle of preparation and training - would be much tougher on Liu than the last.
"Even if he were to resume normal training soon, we would expect to see him on the podium but not necessarily on the top. It will be very difficult for him to win frequently like he did before.
His coach expressed greater confidence.
"We cannot say he is not going to race well either. It is still possible he could get back to his best," said Liu's coach Sun Haiping. "Both Liu and myself are optimistic at this point."
To give the hurdler his best chance of recovering, Sun said they may elect to skip the worlds if Liu is not ready.
"To make a comeback at that event, which is such a competitive race, would be a huge challenge," said Sun. "Our aim is to let the injury fully recover. We can even give up the worlds if necessary. The National Games in October will be much easier for him."
(China Daily January 7, 2009)