Symbol of China's sporting success pulls up in heat with reoccuring foot injury, nation sheds tears.
Chinese superstar Liu Xiang sensationally pulled out of the 110m hurdles heats injured Monday, putting a huge dampener on China's celebrations at achieving their most successful Olympics.
Liu, the defending champion, is a national hero in China with his face on billboards everywhere, and his shock withdrawal with a foot injury after just a few strides in his hurdles heat stunned the nation.
The official athletics television coverage was abruptly halted for a hastily arranged press conference where a weeping Sun Haiping, Liu's coach, explained a right heel injury, which has been a problem for years, flared up again.
The sudden withdrawal of the "Shanghai Express" the first Chinese athlete to simultaneously hold a world record, a world title and an Olympic gold, stunned his legion of fans who see Liu as a symbol of China's burgeoning success in the world.
"I came here especially to see him. I am devastated. I just bought one ticket. The Olympics is over for me as well as Liu Xiang," said Sun Yejun, 30, as she wiped tears from her eyes.
It also took the shine off China revelling in its best Olympic gold medal achievement which some hailed as a potential end to US sporting supremacy.
"We have started to dream that China could surpass the sporting hegemony of the United States and become world number one in the number of gold medals," the Beijing Morning Post said in a front page commentary.
China heads the medal table with 35 gold, three more than their previous best of 32 in Athens and well ahead of the United States on 19 and Great Britain and Australia on 11 as the Olympics go into their final week.
The United States has suffered a series of setbacks in athletics, which continued in the 110m hurdles when Terrence Trammell's bid to improve on successive silvers ended in tears when he pulled up in his heat with a hamstring injury.
The United States is banking on a morale-boosting first athletics victory in the 400m hurdles late Monday with world champion Kerron Clement, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson threatening a clean sweep.
"A clean-sweep? It's going to happen," said Clement. "I just won't tell you in which order."
There are 18 finals on Monday and the men's hurdles is one of the few events where the US can excel while China can again expect to at least dominate the five medals available in gymnastics and table tennis.
Mozambique's Maria Mutola will try to write a remarkable last chapter to her Olympic Games history when she contests her fifth 800m final in her sixth Games.
Panama's Irving Jahir Saldino Aranda is among the favourites in the men's long jump final where for the first time in Olympic history no athlete from the USA qualified for the medal round.
Once the undisputed force of track and field, the USA also failed to make the men's high jump final for the first time, did not medal at all in the women's 100m, and world champion Bernard Lagat missed the cut for the 1500m final.
Meanwhile, Jamaican Usain Bolt's bid to become the first athlete since Carl Lewis in 1984 to achieve the sprint double began convincingly when the Jamaican coasted through his opening 200m heat.
Monday was proving to be Australia's day to shine claiming the first three finals starting with the women's triathlon where triple world champion Emma Snowsill won by more than a minute from Vanessa Fernandes of Portugal.
Australia also won both the men's and women's yachting 470 class.
Britain underlined their credentials as favourites to win the cycling men's team pursuit when they smashed their own world record to beat defending champions Australia in the preliminary rounds.
They ride off against Denmark for the gold medal while an impressive New Zealand quartet will face Australia in the fight for bronze.