Editorial note by author - the following article is now a moot point as Liu Xiang pulled up lame at his first-round race early Monday. He suffered a complication from a chronic ankle injury and was unable to continue.
It's hard to say which opponent will be breathing down the neck of China's hurdles hero the heaviest - his two-legged challengers or the collective 'footsteps' of his admiring, yet demanding nation.
Liu Xiang, who has dominated the 110 meter hurdles since his gold medal in Athens, is expected to reinforce China's emergence in the world of track and field with nothing less than another gold medal performance. The life-span of a hero in the very competitive arena of world-class hurdling however, can be a fleeting thing.
Liu's world record (12.88, 2006) was eclipsed by .01 of a second in June by Dayron Robles of Cuba. And joining Robles in the exclusive sub-13 club are Americans David Oliver and Terrence Trammell (both 12.95) who finished one-two at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon earlier this summer.
Adding to the drama is the mystery surrounding a hamstring injury to Liu's trailing leg this spring. He has not raced since May and his rehab and training has been kept secreted away from public scrutiny. Word is out that he is fully recovered and ready to defend his Olympic title.
Preliminary races begin on Monday and the finals are scheduled for Thursday.
With a status in China almost on a par with that of Yao Ming, Liu Xiang will have the advantage of a tremendous home crowd. All of China for that matter, will in essence be riding on Liu's back. Will that dynamic be a burden or a blessing?