It must be one of the most enduring images of the Olympic spirit at the London 2012 Games: Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang determinedly hopped over the finish line today, far behind his opponents after he fell injured at the first hurdle.
He stopped to kiss the final hurdle before crossing the finish line and being helped away by his opponents.
The injury agony was a sad echo of four years ago when Liu, who won 110 metre hurdles gold in the Athens in 2004, was denied the opportunity to repeat the feat in his home Games in Beijing.
He crashed into the hurdle as an Achilles injury – one of a series to dog him - appeared to reoccur in the first few yards of the first heat.
The Chinese lay prone on the track, his Games over, as Team GB’s Andy Turner went on to win the race and qualify for the semi-final. Eventually getting to his feet, he went to leave the arena before turning round and – to a huge ovation – hopping the length of the track wide of the outside lane.
After Liu crossed the finish line, Hungarian competitor Balazs Baji held his arm aloft as the crowd cheered him. The man thought of as the greatest hurdler ever by many was then helped away.
He was one of the faces of the Beijing Games after becoming his China’s first ever track and field Olympic gold medallist at Athens. But his Games ended in nightmare as a similar scene saw him exit the race injured. The Chinese TV presenter who broke the story reportedly broke down in tears on air, such was the level of hope and expectation on Liu’s shoulders.
Injuries have affected his performances since that day but he looked to be on the way back after a strong performance in the world championships last year. He was considered one of the favourites for a gold medal.
Aries Merritt, the current world number one, said: “It’s just a tragedy for that to happen to one of the best hurdlers of all time. I hope he’s okay. It’s a shame that had to happen to Liu.
“He looked fine before the race. He was happy. I don’t think anything was wrong, I think he just made a small mistake and when you do that at this speed it’s hard to recover.”
Turner, who runs again tomorrow, said: “I regard him as probably the best hurdler in history and have so much respect for him. It was horrible seeing him limp off like that so you have to go and help people.”
The pair both made the podium at last year’s World Championships in Daegu when Turner took the bronze and Liu the silver.
The Briton added: “When you medal with people you have a kind of connection and after last year [at the World Championships] in Daegu we always say hello and try and have a chat in what little English he speaks. He’s a nice guy and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
Liu Xiang, along with Shane Brathwaite of Barbados and Artur Noga of Poland were officially listed as having not finished the race, while Moussa Dembele of Senegal was disqualified.