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Liu Xiang falls at the first hurdle

A former Chinese hurdles world champion has once again had his hopes dramatically crushed in the Olympic heats. The athlete has battled a foot injury for four years.

China's Liu Xiang experienced Olympic disaster again on Tuesday. The hurdler crashed out of a heat race for the 110 meters in a dramatic echo of his injury-prompted withdrawal from the event at the same stage in Beijing four years ago.

The former world record holder and 2004 Olympic Champion hit the first hurdle with his lead leg and fell to the ground before hobbling off the track and being helped into a wheelchair.

Although Liu Xiang once made history as China's first male athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field, he famously pulled out of the heats at the 2008 Olympics with an injured Achilles tendon, much to the shock of his Chinese fans who were looking forward to seeing him compete in the Bird's Nest stadium.

He seemed to make a comeback after he flew to the United States for surgery and altered his start technique, winning silver at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, Korea. But his dramatic exit from this year's Olympic event may be an indication that the 29-year-old is still haunted by the injury.

Dayron Robles of Cuba, who set the world record for the 110-meter hurdles in Beijing - which Liu matched earlier this year - meanwhile breezed into the semi-finals. He joins American world champion Jason Richardson and his teammate Aries Merritt, who won his Olympic heat in the fastest first-round time ever recorded - 13.07 seconds.

Later on Tuesday, Olympic 100-meter champion Jamaica's Usain Bolt was to start his bid for the 200-meter title. Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba was set to compete for gold in the women's 5,000 meters after winning the 10,000 meter event.

sej/sgb (dpa, AFP)