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China reacts to its fallen hero

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BEIJING -- The collective letdown in China when Liu Xiang walked off the track Monday morning rippled through the national media within minutes.

After Liu's withdrawal from the Beijing Games and a press conference in which Liu's personal coach, Sun Haiping, cried so hard he could not continue speaking, China's top sports newspaper, Titan Sports, set up a dedicated Web site for Liu Xiang news. The name of the site aptly described the sadness that rippled throughout the country today: "A broken wing at the Bird's Nest."

Chinese Vice President Xi Jingpeng sent a telegram to Liu via the State General Administration of Sport on Monday, according to both the Chinese- and English-language editions of the People's Daily Online. A second story on the English-language site lauded China's biggest athlete: "Liu Xiang pulls out, coaches laud him fighter." No less than five related stories were listed on the Chinese version of the site.

In the English-language China Daily, the story of Vice President Xi sending regards to Liu played underneath a large headline reporting Pervez Musharraf's resignation as president of Pakistan. A large photo spread titled "Liu Xiang quits" with photos of crying spectators played as the first photo on the Web site's front-page gallery. Another story, titled "Liu Xiang quits 110m hurdles," runs for six Web pages, with photos of Sun crying and national track and field head coach Feng Shuyong comforting him at the press conference.

The Sichuan news Web site ran a similar photo of a crying Sun in a scrolling slideshow with photos of the other big stories of the day: the men's table-tennis team gold medal, Chen Yibing's individual gold in the rings event in gymnastics; and a story of a departing army regiment from the Beichen region of Sichuan, which was partly destroyed in a massive earthquake on May 12.

China's sports television media had planned their entire week based on Liu's competitions, which were to run daily from Monday through Thursday's final round. The broadcast plans were thrown into tumult after his withdrawal. Host Liu Jianhong of China Central Television's channel 1, which broadcasts Olympic-themed programming six hours per day, said that his original hope was to have Liu Xiang on the channel for an exclusive interview regardless of how he did in the final. "No matter whether he wins or not, he is someone that all the media want to interview," Liu said.

Few media outlets believe that the normally gregarious Liu, who has appeared on television game shows in China and even sung karaoke, will agree to an interview this week after his devastating day at the Bird's Nest. Even before this race, Liu had been out of the media's view for months, raising questions about how serious his injuries might be and whether the State General Administration of Sport, clearly pressured to deliver a healthy Liu to the Olympics, had overreacted in sequestering Liu from the press.

In Liu's hometown of Shanghai, there was similar hand-wringing in the media ranks over their coverage plans. Shanghai Eastern Satellite TV had planned all of its Olympic coverage for the week around Liu. "We did not expect [his injury] to happen, so a lot of our initial plans have been canceled," said editor TaoQiushi. Shanghai's English-language International Channel Shanghai initially wanted Liu on its Power Sports program, but producer Wang Dong admitted that after Liu's injury, he felt it would be very difficult to do so.