The Crying Games

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Editor's Note: Jodi Noffsinger, an American living in Beijing, is filing regular updates on the scene at the Olympics in The Beijing Blonde column on

Stunned. By now you've probably heard about the shock that struck Beijing after track star Liu Xiang pulled out of the 110-meter hurdles, the race he won four years ago in Athens, becoming China's first man to win gold in track and field. He soon became a national hero in China, racking up endorsements from Coca-Cola, Nike and Visa. He can't be missed as is face is plastered on almost every billboard in Beijing.

Today, the scene was set as the National Stadium was packed and those that were near a TV were watching as Liu's qualifying heat came to the track. I was watching it all unfold on the CCTV broadcast and it all felt so dramatic. It was clear from the moment he stepped on the track that things were not as they should be. At first, I thought it was just the enormous pressure he must have been feeling having the Olympic hopes of 1.3 billion people pinned to him for the last four years.

As he warmed up, it was clear he was not in perfect form as he grabbed his leg and winced in pain. Of course the camera was only trained on him so we watched as he continued to limp and make visible expressions of his pain. I knew this was not going to end well for Liu or the Chinese as he took to the block, but I found myself holding my breath to see where this was all going. I was still rooting for him, along with all of China.

And sure enough, after another runner's false start, Liu limped out of the blocks, called it quits and walked off the track, the camera still trailing him as he sat alone in an empty room inside the stadium. Everyone could guess it was his injury, but is was an odd moment as the announcers were silent and no one seemed sure what to do next. After the awkward silence, the camera then returned to the race Liu-less, announcers still in a state of shock.

Later, in a press conference, to add to the drama of it all, Liu's coach, Sun Haiping broke down in tears, unable to even speak at one point, when he explained the extent of the injury and why Liu could not race. Liu's coach wasn't the only one crying as fans and volunteers at the stadium also teared up after Liu's departure.

For a moment, I felt just as shocked as the rest of China when I saw the blank faces around Beijing after this national disappointment. Adding insult to injury, Nike was airing their "Just Do It" commercial featuring Liu throughout today's Olympic coverage. Soon enough, however, China won another gold medal.

While I suspect Liu's moment won't be forgotten, the tears of the Chinese will turn to joy as they celebrate their Olympic victory at the end of these games.