On tap for the morning was the Men's 110m Hurdles Round 1, Liu Xiang's first race of the Olympics. His quest for glory began here, in the final heat of the morning. At least it was supposed to. As the hurdlers got ready on their blocks, my cameraman, Lee, noticed that Liu didn't look too comfortable. Sure enough, the false start by Marcel Van Der Westen was all it took for Liu to walk away from 91,000+ open-jawed spectators. I was one of them. Liu was the face of the Olympics for China. It didn't matter that it already had the most gold medals. China was counting on him more than anyone.
This was truly the biggest collapse of a national hero the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games could have experienced. Honestly, I don't even think a Michael Phelps downfall could compare from where I was standing. The Bird's Nest was drowning in China's tears. Suddenly, BOOM! The gun went off again. The race had to happen, even without Liu, and it did.
All 7 athletes who raced in the heat qualified for the next round, either based on place or time. I spoke with Van Der Westen after the race and asked him what the atmosphere in the crowd was like before the second gun went off. I don't have the quote in front of me, though he pretty much said, "I've never been on drugs before, but it must have felt like a trip to experience that." That quote sums it up.