The enthusiasm surrounding injured hurdler Liu Xiang at Tian'anmen Square yesterday morning proved he is still one of the most popular sports stars in China.
Invited to attend the starting ceremony of 2009 Beijing International Long-distance Running Festival on Sunday morning, the reigning world champion and former Olympic men's 110m hurdlers champion, appeared in front of tens of thousands of running fans, causing a crescendo of flashing cameras from the media and inspiring shouts from fans.
"I love you, Liu Xiang!", "Liu, you're the best!" and "Come on, Liu. You will recover!" people shouted as they ran past.
Excited fans also forced organizers to cancel Liu's 10-minute interview with the media and cut short his appearance in the stands to only six minutes.
Liu arrived quietly on Saturday night and his schedule was kept secret by organizers, but hundreds of members of the media rushed for him on Sunday morning.
Since media could only shoot photos from outside a group of volunteer guards surrounding Liu, they had to learn about the young hurdler through his coach, Sun Haiping.
"Attending the World Championships in August is too rushed for him, so attending the competition in September or October is a better choice," Sun said outside the VIP room.
Coming back from surgery and undergoing rehabilitation in the US, Liu is now in training in his hometown of Shanghai preparing to return to competition as soon as possible.
"He trains every day at present, but still cannot take on special training for striding hurdlers. We don't want to put him at risk again."
(China Daily 04/13/2009 page3)