Liu Xiang retires as tragic hero

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He was a great champion. He was a tragic hero.

No matter how dramatic his career has been, Olympic champion and former world record holder Liu Xiang decided to retire and end his 19-year career as a hurdler.

It came as no surprise when China's best known track and field athlete announced his retirement on Tuesday after more than two years of rehabilitation from an ankle surgery.

The 31-year-old never stepped back on the track after he pulled his Achilles tendon attempting to clear the first hurdle in the heats at the 2012 London Olympics.

Liu then underwent a surgery to repair his fragile Achilles tendon and got married. He showed up at various public activities and rejected the possibility to compete in the World Championships in August in Beijing, all signs pointing to an imminent retirement.

Liu tried to keep the farewell as low-key as possible, choosing an uneventful date to wave goodbye to millions of fans on weibo, a Chinese equivalent to Twitter.

"My course, my hurdles, you have been in my company for 19 years. We first met when I was 13 years old," said Liu. "I returned in the London Olympics because I don't want to be called a coward, a quitter."

As expected, China's first male Olympic champion in athletics received not much surprise or regrets after the announcement for his evasion from races since the London Olympics.

Fans react calm to Liu's retirement. "It's time to retire. Actually, it should have come a little bit earlier for we have not seen you race for quite a long time," said a follower on Liu Xiang's weibo account.

Despite two disappointing withdrawals from the Olympics, including the one in Beijing, Liu is arguably the greatest athlete in China's athletics history and one of the best in the world's 110m hurdles.

One supporter said on his account: "Liu Xiang is the only Chinese who beat the black atheltes on straight course. Liu Xiang competed in 48 major national and international races, winning 36 golds, but a lot of people just remember the two-time withdrawals, the only flaws. No matter what, we are proud of you."

The Shanghai native shot to fame when he won the 110 meters hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics, equalling Briton Colin Jackson's world record of 12.91 seconds.

Liu bettered the world record to 12.88 seconds in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 2006. And one year later, he won a world championship gold in Osaka, Japan to become the first male hurdler to own Olympic and world titles and the world record at the same time.

While Liu was conquering the 110m hurdles across the world, the shadow of injury crawled in and cost him dearly in his home Olympic Games in 2008.

In the first round heat in Beijing, Liu limped off the track with an aggravated Achilles tendon injury to the astonishment of a capacity Bird's Nest.

Four months later, he underwent a surgery in the United States and had four calcium deposits removed from his right foot.

Four years later, Liu's fate mysteriously repeated in a bad way. In London Olympics, Liu hopped on one foot to the finish line, kissed the hurdle and was wheelchaired off the track.

Just as his first withdrawal in Beijing, Liu, his team as well as the Chinese Athletics Association were bombarded for concealing his injury.

And at the same time, many already felt that this could be Liu's last stop of his career.

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