From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Monday: All China was in a state of shock today when defending Olympic champion, 110m hurdler and national hero Liu Xiang withdrew on the starting line with a tendon injury in his right foot, writes Philip Barker.
If the scene in the Press centre was any guide, millions of Chinese supporters will have been aghast as the poster boy of these Games – the 2008 equivalent of Cathy Freeman in Sydney eight years ago – hobbled out of the competition.
More than 400 journalists crammed into the interview room under the stadium for what was surely the most dramatic Press conference of these Games so far, with coach Sun Haiping breaking down in tears as he told how three doctors had worked on his runner at the warm up track – to no avail.
One moment in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, 91,000 were chanting his name. The next, as their hero departed, there was silence.
China has only ever won one men’s athletics Olympic gold – Liu in Athens four years ago. Now, they will not be winning any more track golds in Beijing.
Tears were shed everywhere: even the presenter on the lunchtime TV news bulletin wept as she delivered the sad report.
Liu was spirited away from the stadium without talking to the Press. But speaking through an interpreter, the head of the Chinese team, Feng Shuyong, said: “I witnessed it all. The pain was intolerable. When he checked in he had the strongest will to compete, but we could see the pain on his face.
“Let me repeat, Liu Xiang would not withdraw unless the pain was intolerable.”
Liu’s injuries have been variously reported as a hamstring problem (earlier in the summer), an Achilles tear and a foot injury, the latest problem flaring up on Saturday.
Liu has the status of a David Beckham in China, seeming to be on every other billboard in Beijing. He is the face of these Games.
“Whenever he goes out, he sees his picture everywhere, when he surfs the internet he sees sites with all kinds of information on him. There was great pressure on him,” said Feng, “but he can stand the pressure other athletes cannot stand.”
â–¡ The Press conference itself was a useful study in dealing with the Press. Though Feng spoke mostly in Chinese, when he did switch to English he proved highly articulate and quotable.
â–¡ British rower-turned-cyclist Rebecca Romero, after her gold medal triumph, brought some discipline to the mixed zone. “Why don’t you all stand in a circle around me?” she said as the scrum in the zone began to tilt on the edge of disorder.
â–¡ Meanwhile, at the gold medal Press conference for sailor Ben Ainslie (pictured left), an intrepid reporter for Chinese state news agency Xinhua asked: “Do you think that yourself you are a superman or an ET from another planet?”
â–¡ The Olympic effect has been felt by this website over the past 10 days, with daily site traffic reaching nearly 30,000 hits – the number of page impressions being registered every month by the SJA website just a couple of years ago.
Particular “spikes” in traffic have been recorded whenever the US President has been mentioned, suggesting that internet users love Bush.
â–¡ Therefore, let’s have another gratuitous mention of the White House tenant: President George W Bush is one of the many who were captivated by Michael Phelps‘ performances in Beijing.
From his Texas ranch on Sunday, the President placed a long-distance call to congratulate the swimming phenomenon. “If you can handle eight gold medals, you can handle anything,” Bush reportedly told Phelps.
â–¡ Watch out for Phelps playing a special role on Sunday in the Olympic handover festivities being planned by London 2012.
â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Clear skies 5, Smog 11. Nice day.
â–¡ Further to my notes yesterday about the wordage churned out by the British Press in Beijing over the record-breaking Olympic weekend, the Press Association team took the prize on Super Saturday with 46,655 words during the day.
â–¡ Unsure whether this is a throwback to the bad old days of the Grauniad when it was infamous for its literals, or simply a reflection of the newspaper’s Manchester heritage: on the beautiful poster front page of the sports section today, displaying pictures of Britain’s proud medallists, double sculls bronze medallist Elise Laverick is mis-captioned by the paper as: Elsie.
â–¡ Just a few hours before becoming world No1 for the first time, Rafael Nadal, of Spain (pictured right), won the tennis gold medal over Fernando Gonzalez, of Chile, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
Nadal won the French Open this year in a green shirt, Wimbledon in white but was wearing the red of Spain when he dominated Gonzalez. He still put in his trademark slump to the court and celebration on his back to salute his win.
Roger Federer, who concedes the world top ranking to Nadal tomorrow, finally landed an Olympic gold for the first time by winning the doubles. With fellow Swiss Stanislas Warwrinka he beat the Swedes 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 in almost three hours in the final.
Federer, in his third Olympic Games, had not won a medal before. And he had not played doubles seriously for six years.