BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese sports fans were left reeling on Tuesday after former Olympic champion Liu Xiang crashed out of the 110 meters hurdles heats at the London Games, a haunting echo of his injury-induced withdrawal in Beijing four years ago.
The 2004 Olympic champion and former world record holder hit the first hurdle with his lead leg and tumbled to the ground before being helped from the track with his dream of regaining the title shattered.
Chinese quickly took to the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo to lament Liu's failure.
"My heart is broken. I had been awaiting this race with such expectation," wrote one user on Weibo.
"That's it for his career," wrote another.
Liu's failure to launch was an eerie reminder of scenes at Beijing's "Bird's Nest" four years ago when he hobbled out of the stadium before his first-round heat to shock the home crowd.
Chinese state television's reporter on the London track appeared to be on the verge of tears as she related what had happened to Liu, the country's first man to win a track gold.
His fall made the evening news on staid state broadcaster CCTV, which usually only reports on the country's Olympic triumphs.
"Since withdrawing from the Beijing Olympics, injury has been Liu Xiang's biggest difficulty," state television noted.
Liu's second successive Olympic disappointment drew more than 2 million posts in the space of an hour on the Weibo microblogging platform. Local media reported some other blogging websites had crashed under the weight of users.
Some microbloggers expressed frustration but most were sympathetic to Liu, whose failure at Beijing made many Chinese question the country's uncompromising pursuit of Olympic glory.
"There are still a number of hurdles to leap for Liu Xiang. Let's encourage him. Come on!" wrote one Internet user.
"You're still a hero to me, and we are still very proud of you," wrote another.
Others put the blame on Chinese officialdom.
"Let's not blame Liu Xiang, it's his team and the sports ministry," one post read.
A spokeswoman with the Chinese delegation in London was not reachable for comment.
Additional reporting and writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford