Hurdler Liu Xiang’s Historic Gold Display in Athens 2004 | Olympics on the Record

Home advantage can be
a mixed blessing. The support of the
home crowd is welcome, but the burden of expectation
can be overwhelming. And in Beijing 2008, the entire Chinese nation was
looking to one man for glory. This man, Liu Xiang. Few people will ever be able to
understand the pressure that Liu Xiang was under to bring home gold
at the Beijing Olympics. His modest habits
and unassuming manner made him irresistible
to big business, desperate to be associated
with an authentic Chinese hero. In the build-up to the games,
Liu was everywhere, his image associated with
everything from sports brands
to soft drinks. His opening appearance
on the track brought the nation
to a standstill. China’s 110 metre hurdle champ was about to start
his Olympic campaign. TV audiences spiked. But something didn’t feel
right. There had been rumours
about his fitness, an old Achilles injury
flaring up. Liu was not himself. A false start by
Marcel van der Westen, but no-one was looking
at the Dutchman, a nation turned its eye on Liu. Did that just happen? Did he just pull up before
the first hurdle? And then he walked off. No restart, no heat,
no Olympic final for Liu Xiang. There was silence in the
stadium. TV audiences plunged. The pain, the shock. There were tears, dismay and bitter,
bitter disappointment. Now, wait a moment.
No-one died! Beijing 2008 was a great
success. China won plenty of gold
medals. So why did the fortunes of just
one athlete matter so much? Why so much pressure
on one man? To answer that question, you need to take a broader look at the history of
Chinese athletics. While it is true that China has been a heavyweight
at the Olympic Games, their success on the track
has been limited. The men’s team had won
just one medal, Zhu Jianhua winning bronze
in the high jump in 1984, and nothing since. Out of this emerged
the young Liu Xiang. He was inspired by Zhu to take
up athletics and the high jump. But at 6’2″, Liu is on the
short side for a high jumper. So, instead, Liu drifted into
the 110 metre hurdles, new ground for
a Chinese athlete. And something else
about the hurdles. It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard! Young Liu devoted himself
to the toughest, most technically demanding
discipline of them all. There are so many elements
to this craft, so much to get right,
so much to get wrong. At 16 Liu was the schoolboy
champion of China. At 18 he broke the junior
world record. At 20, he won a bronze medal
at the World Championship. Going into the 2004 Olympic
Games in Athens, China finally had a genuine
contender in track and field. Here’s heat 3.
Out of the blocks. Hernandez of Cuba
has a big start and Liu coming on now,
he always finishes well. Terrance Tremmel is coming with
him. Can he keep up with Liu? Liu easing up, he’s qualified
easily and so has Tremmel. Liu, now 21,
sailed through his heats, his exceptional technique seeing him safely
into the final. Olympic record holder Allen
Johnson would not be joining him after coming unstuck. The 110m hurdles,
an obstacle course with spikes. Liu had a real chance of
a medal. Chinese fans in their millions got up in the early hours
to watch. A nation dared to dream. And they’re off. Allen, a great start in lane 1. Tremmel from the USA in lane 6
is moving well too. But here comes Liu,
he’s being pushed by the Frenchman, Doucoure, but this is really fast.
He’s pulling away now, and Liu is in. That’s gold for China
and a new Olympic record! Just off the world mark. The first Chinese male athlete
in history to win gold in track and field. Liu would remain in the
headlines as the country prepared for Beijing 2008,
Liu’s home Olympic Games. In 2006, he set a new world
record of 12.88. In 2007, he won
the World Championship, another first for China and
Liu. He was all set to defend
his Olympic gold medal in his hometown in 2008. As we know, it didn’t work out Let’s not go over all that
again because
“to understand is to forgive”. But for everything he’s done
for Chinese sport, Liu Xiang doesn’t deserve
forgiveness, he deserves thanks.

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