Yeah, for the most part you remember the great champions at the Olympics – Michael Phelps and his 18 golds, Carl Lewis and his nine, Eric Heiden’s five golds in 1980, Bob Beamon’s long jump – but some bitter defeats are just as iconic. (Think Mary Decker’s fall, for one.) People can empathize with falling short in the most heartbreaking fashion just as easily as they can revel in victory, so when you have a moment that provides both devastating defeat and redemption, you’ve got a tailor-made classic Olympic moment on your hands.
Today, Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang provided one of those moments. Liu is one of China’s best and most popular athletes, having won gold in the 110 hurdles in Athens in 2004, but was felled by an Achilles tendon injury during the 2008 Games and was unable to defend his title in front of the home crowd. After a long while, though, he returned to form, and was ready to go in London. Then, during a preliminary heat in the 110 hurdles today, this happened:
“Horrendous luck.” What more can you say? The Achilles got Liu again. All that work to get back to potential-gold-medalist form… and in one hurdle, it’s over. And it might well be over for good – Liu’s 29 now, so he’ll likely be past his prime by the time 2016 rolls around. A crushing defeat for him, and the nation that loves him – but he didn’t quite let it end there, and that’s when things got a little more uplifting:
From the moment he stopped in the tunnel with a looked that for all the world appeared to say, “No. I’m not going out like that,” that was awesome. That’s how you make a moment yours and go out on your terms as much as possible (note how he leans down to kiss the hurdle as that video above ends). If Liu was going to have to end his 2012 Olympics like that, he at least deserved one moment to savor. This was it, and that limp to the finish line deserves to be an Olympic moment just as enduring as his victory from 2004. While we have to think Xiang would trade the poignancy of this moment for the euphoria of another gold in about a nanosecond, classic moments come in all forms.