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A week later, Liu lined up for the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., but was disqualified for a false start. He hasn't raced since and only rarely has made public appearances, training in seclusion.
The 25-year-old hurdler is as much a celebrity here as Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. At the Athens Games four years ago, Liu became as the first Chinese man to win an Olympic track and field gold medal. A Chinese insurance company volunteered more than $10 million of coverage for his legs. His image appears everywhere in his hometown of Shanghai, and he has sponsorship deals with Visa and Coca-Cola, among others.
"I think the Chinese people will understand the situation," Feng said of Liu's withdrawal, "and will encourage him to come back to the track."
Thursday night's 110-meter hurdles final was expected to be one of the highlights of these Olympics: China's Liu vs. Cuba's Dayron Robles, the man who broke Liu's world record in June -- with 91,000 fans crowding into the Bird's Nest to cheer on their man.
"I think they will be disappointed," said Wang Wei, executive vice president of the games' organizing committee. "But they will understand. When somebody has an accident, you can't help it."
Now Robles, who won his heat but at 13.39 seconds was well off his world record time of 12.87, becomes the clear favorite.
Yet another of the top contenders departed Monday when two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell of the United States grabbed the second hurdle and limped off the track with an injured left leg.
The exits of Liu and Trammell leave David Oliver, thought to be running as consistently as any of the U.S. hurdlers of late, as a serious medal candidate. His personal best of 12.95 seconds is only 0.08 second off Robles' world record.
Asked before Liu lined up for his heat whether he knew that his Chinese rival appeared to be hurting badly, Robles said he didn't care.
"I'm going to do what Usain Bolt did," the Cuban said when asked about breaking his hurdles world record. "The track is perfect. Anything is possible in the final."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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