Could the Chinese government have orchestrated one of the most dramatic moments at the London Olympics, right down to the tears state-television anchors cried on air?
A collective gasp was heard across China when its national hero, the track-and-field star Liu Xiang, hit the first hurdle in the men's 110-meter race. As Liu crumbled to the ground, anchors on China's Central Television, which carried the event live, froze. And then, as if on cue, CCTV's lead anchor, Yang Jian, began to speak as best he could. At times choked up, he called Liu a "soldier" who bravely "charged the enemy's fortress with his own body."
Seemingly eloquent words spoken off the cuff. Or were they?
Now widespread reports in Chinese media claim that Yang knew full well that Liu had a serious injury before the race and, following government orders, had prepared four different versions of "live reaction" to read on air, depending on Liu's performance. A headline this week in the Oriental Guardian read, "Liu Xiang knew, CCTV knew and leaders knew - only spectators foolishly waited to witness a moment of miracle."
The government was aware that Liu had hurt his right Achilles (the same injury that kept him from competing at the Beijing Games in 2008) while training in Germany, according to the South China Morning Post. Liu had it checked in London after he arrived and was told it was serious. But soon after, according to the Post, the government issued a gag order on state television.
The Chinese government arguably had a vested interest in maintaining Liu's superstar status. China's sports authority gets a cut of everything he makes in endorsements.
Liu earned $25 million in 2008, according to Forbes magazine. His endorsement deals include Nike, BMW and more.
China's sports authority has denied that it knowingly let him run with a potentially career-ending injury. Feng Shuyong, China's athletic director for London 2012, told Xinhua News Agency, "if we could have predicted he would be injured, no one would have let Liu run."
In Shanghai Thursday, Liu also defended his race, telling CCTV, "I didn't expect the injury to happen. I think I was healthy when I was standing on the field."
Choreographed or not, Liu practically had all of China in tears after his fall. In clear pain, he hopped toward the finish line, pausing only to kiss the final hurdle. He left the stadium in a wheelchair.
But in light of accusations against the government, online criticism (with a dose of cynicism) dominated China's microblogs. From Yin_KennyGFeiyang on Weibo, "I have no words to describe you, but you've deceived the hopes of 1.4 billion people."
A more forgiving fan asked, "Shouldn't we offer him tolerance and encouragement, whatever the result of his race since this man has strived for the embodiment of the spirit of the Olympics?"
Liu has yet to say whether he will retire from the sport.