Liu Xiang, the 2004 Athens Olympic gold medalist from China and the greatest track athlete in Chinese history, was injured on Tuesday during his 110m hurdles heat at the London Olympics. An Achilles tendon injury also forced him to pull out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Afterwards, Liu hopped down the track and kissed the final hurdle before leaving in a wheelchair. U.S. hurdler Aries Merritt, the 27-year-old winner of 110m hurdles at the London Olympics, said “for that to happen to one of the best hurdlers of all time is just a tragedy.”
Another American hurdling great, Renaldo Nehemiah, also expressed his admiration for Liu to reporters. “The closest person he reminded me of was Michael Johnson,” Nehemiah said. “Liu had that competitive spirit. You had to run a flawless race to beat him.”
Feng Shuyong, an official from the Chinese State Sports General Administration Bureau Track & Field Center, praised Liu’s efforts afterwards. “He showed that athletes are not just about winning, but about showing that spirit to the world,” said Feng.
Liu Yandong, a high ranking Chinese government official and a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, called Liu to express her concern for his injury and praise him for his Olympic spirit.
Contrary to the sympathy and kind words from foreign athletes and commentators, however, Chinese netizens seemed genuinely angered and disgusted by Liu’s performance.
In the comment sections of stories covering Liu from Sina, people expressed their opinions in colorful ways. In a news story titled “Liu Xiang: I’ll be Back! Hurdles are Still There and I Will Clear Them”, online readers left more than 100,000 comments, most of which were negative.
One commenter said, “hurry back, your sponsors will renew your contracts.” Another teased, “it’s a pity that Liu Xiang is not an actor. I bet he can win an Oscar for his performance.”
Many people believe that Liu simply lost his nerve for two consecutive Olympics, and put up a show so that he would not have to actually compete and risk not winning gold.
Some complained that the Chinese government spends millions a year on Liu Xiang, all taxpayers’ money, without ever consulting the Chinese taxpayers if this is how they would like their tax money spent.
According to insiders, at the track and field training center in Shanghai, Liu’s meals are prepared by a designated chef, who usually cooks 5 or 6 different dishes for each of Liu’s meals, and brings the freshly made dishes to him within five minutes of his arrival at the cafeteria.
This pampered lifestyle makes many Chinese bitter. Elite athletes like Liu are given the best quality food that ordinary Chinese people are not entitled to. For instance, the government sports authorities arrange with selected farms to produce organic vegetables and high quality meat products, and conduct stringent safety inspections to ensure that the foods these athletes consume meet the most strict health regulation guidelines.
Meanwhile, the average person on the street worries about the safety of the food that he consumes each day. Some people joke that their stomachs have been exposed to every element of the periodic table. Melamine-tainted milk and antibiotics-fed chickens are just some recent examples of food safety concerns.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why many Chinese find Liu’s performance disappointing. They feel that as taxpayers, their tax money has provided elite athletes like Liu with the best of everything which they themselves are not entitled to, and he re-pays them with such sub-par performances at the Olympics.
As comments left for stories on Liu has shown, many Chinese netizens feel cheated by Liu and his handlers. It is interesting to note that in Liu’s case, the western media has generally been very sympathetic, praising Liu for his efforts and expressing regrets for his injury. This is one rare instance where the western media is in agreement with the Chinese government.
Yesterday, Liu had surgery on his right Achilles tendon at a British hospital. The doctor who operated on Liu was optimistic about his prospects, and expressed confidence that that Liu would be able to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.