It was casualty time in the unforgiving crucible of London 2012's main arena yesterday morning. Liu Xiang, the fall guy of the Beijing Olympics, smashed the first barrier in his 110m hurdles heat, then hopped down the apron of the track and departed in a wheelchair. Phillips Idowu, the Invisible Man of British athletics, managed a couple of valid hops, steps and jumps but disappeared from the home Olympic stage just 40 minutes after stepping on to it. He did so fearing he would need surgery to put his broken body back together but defiantly vowing to fight another day.
The pity is tomorrow should have been Idowu's day. The Hackney man has been the world's most consistent triple jumper in recent years and an Olympic final next door to his manor would have been a dream opportunity to achieve the gold he missed by just 5cm in Beijing. The trouble is he won't be on the start list, his wing and a prayer mission having come to grief in the qualifying round yesterday.
Idowu needed to jump 17.10m or to finish in the top 12 of the two combined pools, to make the final. It was not to be. In his first competition for nine weeks, the 33-year-old was clearly still constrained by the hamstring-cum-hip-problem that had been the cause of so much intrigue in the countdown to the Games.
With his first effort, the big Belgrave Harrier managed 16.47m. He abandoned his second without making a valid mark.
With his third, he managed to improve to 16.53m but that put him 14th in the pecking order, 11cm short of the cut-off point.
"I've competed for 12 years and I can't remember a time when I've performed that badly," a crestfallen Idowu reflected. "I'm guessing I will need surgery at the end of this season. I'll call it a day and wrap up the season.
"The crowd have been great. I'm upset that I let them down. All year I've been tagged as a medal favourite and I haven't got the chance to go out there and do it.
"It hasn't completely sunk in yet. My fourth Olympic Games hasn't gone to plan and now I just have to regroup and prepare for the future."
At 33, that future is unlikely to feature a fifth shot at Olympic gold in Rio in 2016 but – despite the travails of 2012, and the breakdown of his relationship with UK Athletics – Idowu insisted he will not be hanging up his spikes just yet.
"I haven't finished competing," he said. "I don't think you've seen the best of me yet."
There was further British anguish when Andy Pozzi crashed into the second barrier and out of his 110m hurdles heat and when Goldie Sayers, with a strapped and damaged elbow, failed to register a valid mark in the javelin qualifying round. "It's heartbreaking," a tearful Sayers said.
No athlete knows about the heartache of being injured for a home Olympics more than Liu Xiang. The host nation went into mourning when he failed to get down the track in his 110m hurdles heat in Beijing four years ago.
Yesterday he failed to get past the first hurdle, which he demolished in unceremonious fashion. Fenn Shuyong, China's track and field team leader, said that Liu was still suffering from the Achilles injury that struck him in Beijing but stressed: "He is not thinking of retiring."
At least, when the time does come for Liu to move on, he will do so with an Olympic gold. He won one in Athens in 2004, getting his moment of glory in before the ordeal of a home Games.
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