The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.
August 18, 2008 12:23 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
There wasn't even time to gasp. China's swiftest son burst off his blocks, grimaced and disappeared.
Gold medalist hurdler Liu Xiang tweaked his Achilles tendon on a false start Monday morning, then quit the 110-meter heat.
"Four years," wailed a Chinese fan, peering down from the National Stadium's nosebleed section. "Four years waiting for this, and he's out."
Beijing's Bird's Nest National Stadium
Filial, humble and dashing, Liu has dominated China's Olympic imagination since Athens 2004. In Greece, he set a world record for the 110-meter hurdles, offering hope to sprinters of Asian descent across the globe.
(Note: For more background on Liu Xiang, see 'Liu Xiang vs. Lei Feng' on Blogging Beijing.)
"I want to prove that Asians can run very fast," Liu said then.
Liu ran the 110-meter hurdles in 12. 95 seconds in 2007, but scored bigger as China's most marketable man. He endorses everything from cleats to yogurt, soda pop to automobiles.
The 25-year old has, by all accounts, handled his fame gracefully. According to coach Sun Haiping, Monday's calamity had everything to do with Liu's injury. Yet few athletes have shouldered so much pressure.
A disappointing day of track & field in Beijing
Last year, 'I wish to see Liu Xiang become Olympic champion (again)' topped respondents' Olympic wish lists in an extensive Internet survey. 'I wish to become a torchbearer for the Beijing Games,' and 'I wish to watch the opening ceremonies with friends' lagged behind.
"To see Liu win is the dream of my entire family," one fan told the Beijing News last year. "We are confident that Liu will lead the pack and make our long wait worthwhile."
"He's our hero and China's pride," a retired schoolteacher lectured me this spring. "We Chinese all love him. We tell our kids - look at Liu Xiang. Work hard to improve your body. Do your best. Practice. Don't worry what other people say.
"Liu Xiang is a good boy. When he's not running, he helps people. He's our heart."
Back at the Bird's Nest - which seats 80,000 - silence greeted Liu's heat. For a flash, there he was on the stadium's big-screen - crumpled into a locker-room chair.
"Disappointing," a middle-aged woman remarked somberly. "So disappointing."
Another quarter-hour of women's hammer throw remained. The Bird's Nest emptied in five minutes.
"Oh no! Oh no!" whispered a young man, wrapping up a Chinese flag and shaking his head.
A paralyzing down day for China - so it seemed as Liu's faithful thousands poured onto the Olympic Green.
Only it wasn't.
Beijing's smoggy skies parted. Intense sunrays sailed in. And west of the Bird's Nest, a super-fun water fountain thrilled bunches of sopping-wet Chinese children.
One little boy clutched an umbrella, shrieking. Another slip-slid past delightedly - leaving a shoe. Two small girls held hands to splash around.
No winners. No losers. A wonderful up day for China. If only Liu Xiang could have seen it.
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