China mourns hurdler Liu Xiang's Olympic exit
China is mourning the Olympic exit of Liu Xiang after he fell in the men's 110m hurdles heats, with media and netizens rallying behind the athlete.
Comments ranged from anguish and shock to an outpouring of support and concern for the injured Liu.
The athlete, who won gold in Athens in 2004, crashed at the first hurdle but got up and hopped to the finish line.
For many, it was a tragic repeat of the 2008 Beijing Games when he pulled out with an Achilles injury.
"Ah Liu Xiang, my heart is broken," said one user of the Twitter-like Sina Weibo website.
News of Liu's fall dominated the front pages of many newspapers.
Many lauded him as a hero despite his failure to progress to the final - unlike the general reaction to his withdrawal in Beijing four years ago, which spawned a slew of criticism.
"Liu Xiang fell down, but he will be our hero for ever," said one netizen, echoing the feelings of many who watched his dramatic exit.
As Liu struggled down the track, he stopped at the last hurdle and kissed it, prompting the China Daily newspaper to dub that his ''last kiss''. He was then embraced by fellow competitors and helped off the track.
''He may not have cleared any of the hurdles, but he crossed the most difficult hurdle of his life,'' the official People's Daily newspaper wrote, paying tribute to Liu's persistence.
Liu Xiang left the track in a wheelchair, after an Olympic build-up that had also been overshadowed by injury.
He left London for Leverkusen after pulling out of the Diamond League London Grand Prix 110m hurdles final on 13 July - his 29th birthday - due to muscle pain.
Reports said that Liu's right heel was protected with tape when he entered the stadium on Tuesday. After the race, Feng Shuyong, the head of China's track team told a press conference that Liu had ruptured his Achilles tendon.
"What Liu Xiang did today reflected the true Olympics spirit," state media quoted him as saying. "Winning is not so important, participation is what matters."
Liu Yandong, a top Communist Party official, had called Liu to ''express sympathy and concern'', state media reported.
The official told Liu that ''his spirit, will and attitude have deeply moved and highly inspired the whole nation", said the Xinhua news agency.
Some netizens questioned why Liu, who is one of China's top sporting icons, was competing despite his injuries.
"Liu Xiang was carrying too heavy a burden. Chinese sports officials know nothing about the Olympic spirit. For them, athletes are just machines and pawns," one comment said.
Among the outpouring of support, there were a handful of negative comments and allegations against the athlete, who is easily one of China's best-known faces, with a slew of product endorsements.
Some lambasted him for failing to do his duty by his country.
But by and large, the Chinese people's reactions reflected a level of maturity and compassion within society, said a commentary in the Chinese edition of the Global Times newspaper.
''Thank you, Liu Xiang, for all that you've given us," it said.