China suffered a major setback on Monday to its hopes of winning gold on the Olympic track when superstar Liu Xiang sensationally pulled out of the 110m hurdles heats injured.
The host nation had been banking on Liu to shine, but the Shanghai-native has been troubled by a hamstring injury and he was clearly in pain when he lined up for his race and pulled up before the first hurdle in a false start.
The dejected star, one of the faces of the Beijing Olympics along with basketballer Yao Ming, limped down the tunnel of the Birds Nest stadium to a stunned silence from the patriotic crowd.
Liu, the defending champion, has been absent from international competition for most of the year and his coach Sun Haiping admited before the event that the injury could hamper China's best gold medal hope on the track.
"Liu's injury has been diagnosed as something wrong with his hamstring, but not with the bone," he said in the China Daily.
"It is an accumulated injury due to long training and it will affect him if he uses power. It won't cause problems for the heats, but I'm worried about the semi-finals and the final."
Seldom could there have been more pressure and expectation placed on an athlete than there has been on Liu since he confirmed his class in winning the title in Athens four years ago.