Leading Article: Great expectations

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When most of us fall short of expectations we might upset a handful of people, perhaps even a few hundred if we are particularly important. But one billion souls? That's the kind of pressure that virtually none of us will, thankfully, ever come close to experiencing.

So spare a thought for the 110m hurdler, Liu Xiang, China's most feted track and field hero. By pulling out of his Olympic race yesterday he has crushed the hopes of a fifth of humanity.

Injury was the cause, but a question inevitably presents itself too: did the pressure become too much for Liu? It is notable that the British athletes who have excelled in Beijing (the likes of Rebecca Adlington and Rebecca Romero), generally enjoyed no publicity before striking gold. Those that have been subject to high expectations, from Tom Daley to Paula Radcliffe, have struggled.

An ability to deal with pressure is a part of what defines a top athlete. But it is hard to witness the sad story of Liu and not wonder if, sometimes, it might be kinder to manage expectations downwards, rather than pump them ever higher.

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