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Liu Xiang Leaves Stellar Legacy for Chinese Track and Field as He Announces Retirement

2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang confirmed his retirement on Tuesday (AFP).
2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang confirmed his retirement on Tuesday (AFP).

2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang confirmed his retirement on Tuesday (AFP).

The day was certainly going to come and no one should have been surprised when Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang announced his retirement from athletics in a Weibo post on Tuesday. While the news of the Shanghai native calling time on his career may be sad, he has undoubtedly left a dazzling legacy that China’s up-and-coming track stars will try to emulate.

Liu would make headlines in China in May 2001 when he won gold at the East Asian Games in Osaka, Japan, followed by victories at the Universiade and China National Games in the same year. While they were great accomplishments and local media began to hype up the wunderkind, there was some doubt as to whether he could compete with the best hurdlers in the world at the next level.

Liu would prove his doubters wrong as he showed he could compete with the best the world had to offer as he would go on to win or place among the top finishers at various track meets. However, the big question was whether he could do the job on the Olympic stage.

The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, would be that stage, and a blistering run in the final to beat out American Terrence Trammell and Cuban Anier Garcia set Liu on a path to stardom that he probably never imagined would happen to him. Commercial sponsors from left and right were clamoring for him to endorse their products and the media wanted to know his every move. But the newly crowned 110-meter hurdling champion took it all in stride as he continued to impress on the track.

There were high expectations for Liu at the 2008 Olympics on home soil, but injury forced him to leave early (Liu Dawei/Xinhua).

There were high expectations for Liu at the 2008 Olympics on home soil, but injury forced him to leave early (Liu Dawei/Xinhua).

Then the worst thing that could ever happen to an in-form athlete would strike Liu – injury. High expectations for a repeat performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing led him to skip the European circuit of the outdoor track season so he could prepare for the big show in the country’s capital. August 18 was supposed to the start of the process of the champ retaining his crown only for tragedy to occur at the starting blocks.

Liu’s withdrawal from the race after a false start brought total shock to the masses at the National Stadium. It was just like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room as images of Liu heading back to the tunnel grimacing in pain with every step he took. Watching the tears flow from the faces of his fans and his coach Sun Haiping showed how much the country’s hopes squared on him to repeat as champion. Now, the only question was whether Liu could make a comeback and show the form that earned him many accolades before 2008.

Comeback he did after a 13-month layoff as he went on to win to compete in various events including winning a third straight gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. All things appeared to looked good as the 2012 Olympic Games in London approached. And then tragedy hit yet again as that nagging Achilles injury put a halt to Liu’s attempt to reclaim his Olympic title. To watch him hop all the way down to the end of the track and kiss the last hurdle may have been the sign for all us that this way it.

Despite the efforts to make a comeback this year it was obvious that his Achilles was not reacting positively to the treatment and rehab needed to regain the strength Liu needed to compete. No one would want to see him go through another debilitating injury that could affect his physical health, so retirement was the only option.

At 31 years old, Liu follows in the footsteps of compatriots Li Na and Yao Ming as they have called time on their professional careers. While it is another sad moment, China should once again be proud of the accomplishments that Liu has achieved. In a sport that is often dominated by Americans, Europeans and Caribbeans, Liu showed that through hard work and self belief anyone has a chance at beating the odds.

While it’s unclear what he may do in the future, there is no doubt that Liu will not be too far away from the track as the next crop of athletes look to make a name for themselves. Perhaps he will be a mentor to them as he has the knowledge of what it takes to be the best.

Whatever Liu decides to do with his life in the future, he will forever be a legend in Chinese athletics.

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