Beijing, Aug 18: China's Olympic 110 metres hurdles champion and main hope for a track and field gold Liu Xiang pulled out of his race injured on Monday, devastating fans around the host nation.
After a false start in his first-round heat, Liu, whose face adorns billboards across China, clutched his leg and walked off the track. Fans in Beijing's showcase Bird's Nest stadium looked stunned.
Xiang's departure takes the gloss off an otherwise magnificent Games for China, who are leading with 35 golds on Day Ten and look uncatchable, even by the perennial leading medal-winners United States. The US currently has 19.
Along with NBA basketball player Yao Ming, Liu is China's best-known sportsman. He became his country's first male Olympic champion on the track in Athens 2004 and was China's best hope of an athletics gold in Beijing.
Before Xiang's event, Usain Bolt breezed through a 200 metres heat in his quest to be the first man to win the Olympic sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1984.
The showboating Jamaican won the blue riband 100 metres final at the weekend by smashing the world record and joining record-breaking American swimmer Michael Phelps as the Beijing Olympics poster-boys.
Mugging for cameras on his way to the block and wearing new golden shoes with "Beijing 200m" on them, Bolt barely broke sweat as he strode through his 200m heat, clearly keeping some juice in the tank for Wednesday's final as he slowed to cross second.
The 21-year-old's performances, including his astonishing 100m final win when he pumped his chest in joy before crossing the line, have injected some much-needed glamour into athletics and brought celebrations across his Caribbean homeland.