BEIJING -- China's Liu Xiang dropped out of the 110-meter hurdles today due to a right foot injury, not the hamstring strain that kept him from competing in the United States this spring.
In the event's final first-round heat at National Stadium, officials called a false start as Liu came out of the blocks. He jogged to the first hurdle while favoring and grabbing his right leg. He turned around, tore off his hip numbers, and walked toward a stadium tunnel. When the heat restarted, his lane was empty.
"The problem for today is the injury in his foot,'' said Liu's coach Sun Haiping, who cried several times during a press conference after Liu's withdrawal. "We don't when he was hurt. It has been problem six or seven years ago.
"The injury has gone back and forth during his training and rest during the years. We arrived at Olympic Village Aug. 16 and had an MRI and the problem was in his tendon.''
The injury that forced Liu to drop out was severe pain at the juncture of the Achilles tendon and heel bone caused by a protrusion of bone. Such injuries are typically the result of repetitive stress.
"Since May, a lot of people know that he had problems with his hamstring,'' said Chinese team coach Feng Shuyong. "His hamstring problem is gone. After that, he had very good training for less than two months. His form is getting better and better.
"Last Saturday, he had some problems [with his foot]. But after treatment from doctors, we didn't realize it was so serious and it will cause a problem today. In that kind of situation, we didn't want to tell all the people that he couldn't compete. At the time, nobody knows that he couldn't compete.''
Liu's withdrawal comes as devastating news to the host country. The Chinese had eagerly anticipated Liu defending the gold he won in Athens. They had been waiting for the race since the start of the Games. The fact that Liu was already out before the competition really started left many in the crowd in tears.
"Everybody expected that Liu can do as well as he did four years ago in Athens and get another gold medal,'' said Feng. "That's the wishes of all Chinese people. I believe a lot of friends from other countries wanted to see him do the same thing as he did before.''
Moments before Liu's departure, two-time silver medalist Terrence Trammell of the United States limped off with an injured left leg.
Liu last raced May 24 at a test event at National Stadium, finishing in a relatively unimpressive 13.18 seconds. He did not compete in the Reebok Grand Prix May 31 due to his hamstring. Liu false-started at the Prefontaine Classic 10 days later, although many in the track world suspected it was an intentional because he was injured.
Heading into the Olympics his fitness and injury status were very uncertain.
"We have done everything possible,'' said Feng of the efforts undertaken by doctors and officials to help the hurdler recover. "Liu Xiang shivered a lot due to great pain. If you are injured to a certain degree, the pain is almost intolerable. I personally witness the whole process and saw how pained Liu Xiang was.
"Liu Xiang would not have withdrawn unless the pain was intolerable and he had no other way out.''