LONDON (AFP) –
Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang will go under the knife in London on Wednesday after a serious Achilles tendon tear put him out of the London Olympics, an official said.
The former 110m hurdles gold medallist, whose heartbreaking injury exit for the second Games in a row drew millions of messages of support, will return to China soon after the operation, he said.
“He will have an operation today,” Chinese Olympic committee spokesman Zhang Haifeng told AFP.
“Both Chinese and local doctors examined him yesterday. He’s almost broken his right tendon.”
Liu clattered into the first hurdle in his heat on Tuesday and fell heavily. After being helped to his feet, he bravely hopped the length of the track and symbolically kissed the last hurdle.
Zhang said the 29-year-old will be treated by a specialist sports surgeon. According to Du Zhaocai of the Chinese Athletics Association, the same doctor has operated on David Beckham.
“He is an expert in sports medicine and has done operations on many famous players like David Beckham,” Du told China’s official Xinhua news agency.
A specially created Chinese website has drawn 28 millions messages of support for Liu, while a TV commentator sobbed on air as the athlete hobbled out of the Olympic Stadium.
After the dramatic scenes, eerily reminiscent of Liu’s withdrawal from Beijing 2008 with an injury to the same tendon, Chinese newspapers splashed with the story.
“The Liu Xiang era is over,” said the People’s Daily, while the China Daily front page had a photo of Liu with his lips to the hurdle, and the headline, “The Last Kiss”.
Zhang said Liu had been resting in the Olympic athletes village since the injury, and was in good spirits when he visited him on Tuesday.
“He’s in pain but he’s very brave and optimistic,” he said. “He’s in bed in the athletes village. I visited him yesterday and talked a little bit and gave him some greetings.
“It’s really a sad thing but his spirit inspires young people very much.”
Liu also had surgery to remove calcium deposits from the tendon in 2008, and embarked on a long, slow recovery process that included remodelling his start technique to take seven strides rather than eight to the first hurdle.
It was not until last year that the one-time world record-holder returned to form, when he beat America’s David Oliver in Shanghai. This year he equalled Dayron Robles’ current world mark of 12.87sec, aided by wind.
But his coach, Feng Shuyong, said the injury that struck in Beijing had never really gone away, meaning he was always at risk of a serious recurrence.
“The injury is the same one he had in Beijing,” Feng said, according to the China Daily. “Over the past several years, he has had good medical care, but it is still there and we never stopped the treatment.
“An Achilles injury is almost impossible to recover from. We tried hard before the Games, but we could not find effective ways (to deal with it).”
Liu shot to stardom at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when he became China’s first male track and field gold medallist. However Feng said no decision had been made on Liu’s future.
“He is not thinking about retiring. (But) it is hard to say (if he will return). I hope all the fans can understand this, and that anything can happen,” he was quoted as saying.