'Liu showed spirit of Olympics � got up and finished'

The 29-year-old former world record holder — winner of the 2004 Olympic crown —had been left distraught four years ago after he was forced to withdraw just moments before his opening race in front of his home fans. But his return to the Olympic arena lasted only a split second when he ploughed into the first hurdle with his left leading leg and crashed heavily to the floor.

Liu, who has been troubled by back and foot problems in the past month, eventually got up and hopped down the track to be embraced by his fellow competitors. He was helped off the track by Britain’s Andy Turner and Spain’s Jackson Quinonez and then taken to the medical centre in a wheelchair.

Feng Shu Yong, leader of the Chinese track and field team, said: “He showed the spirit of the Olympics. He got up and finished. It shows that it’s not all about winning but showing the Olympic spirit to the world.”

Fellow competitor Balazs Baji of Hungary had waited for Liu at the finish line, taking the Chinese star’s hand in his and raising the former champion's arm to the crowd. “When I was a kid I saw him breaking a world record, winning the Olympic Games in Athens, so he’s a great idol for me. I’m sorry that he fell. It must be really bad for him, he said. American Aries Merritt, the leading hurdler this season, said: “It was just terrible. For that to happen to one of the best hurdlers of all time is just a tragedy.”

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