Quoted in Tuesday's edition of the China Sports Daily, Liu said he had been determined to run until the very last moment.

"I just feel so sorry. Because there were so many people supporting me, I told myself I had to run, but I just couldn't do it," he said.

"I never quit easily. I am not that type of person," the 25-year-old was quoted saying in another interview with China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

"I never quit easily. I am not that type of person"

Liu Xiang

Liu's departure after only a few minutes in the Bird's Nest stadium stunned Chinese sports fans who had considered the Athens 2004 sensation as China' best hope for an Olympic gold in track and field.

In the four years since his unexpected gold at the last Olympics, Liu has become a sporting and advertising icon across China - his face appearing on billboards for scores of Chinese and international companies.

Shock

Such was the shock then on Monday that thousands of Chinese fans who had packed the iconic Olympic stadium could do nothing but watch open-mouthed as he hobbled back into the changing rooms.

Liu's injury has dominated coverage of the games [GALLO/GETTY]
Shortly afterwards the pain was still raw when, in a news conference broadcast live across China, Liu's coach broke down in uncontrollable sobbing as he tried to explain the disappointment.

But as the news sunk in, a day after the stunning blow of Monday's departure China - still a relative newcomer to the top rankings of international sports - appeared to be more reflective on the human vulnerabilities of a man many had elevated to the heights of godliness.

Online forums on Sohu.com, one of China's most popular portals, carried in depth postings on the physiology of the human foot in an effort to explain Liu's pain and the anatomy behind his short-lived dreams of Beijing gold.

Hurdling, after all, is notoriously bad for the health - the constant impact taking its toll on many an athlete.

"Nobody has the right to establish his own happiness on other people's suffering"

Liu Jianhong,
Chinese TV sports commentator and blogger

In a blog posting entitled "Understand Liu Xiang", Liu Jianhong - one of China's most famous TV sports commentators - wrote that the sad tale should mark a turning point in China's expectations of its sporting heroes.

It was cruel, he said, for some to suggest that Liu should have run whatever his pain.

"My simple opinion is: Liu Xiang has the right to quit. This is not a disaster, no matter to the games or to Liu Xiang," the sports commentator wrote.

"Sport is something fun for human beings, and its essence is to make us happier. Nobody has the right to establish his own happiness on other people's suffering. This is not about national honor, this is not about individual morality, this is all about a person's health, his life and his future."

Burdens

Ever eager to guide the nation, China's top leaders also weighed in with a message from Xi Jingping, China's vice-president, printed on the front page of Tuesday's People's Daily, the ruling communist party's official newspaper.

"Everyone will understand why Liu Xiang had to abandon competition due to injury," Xi said, "and we hope he will cast aside mental burdens and settle his mind on overcoming injury."

Liu's coach, Sun Haipang, expresses the grief of the nation [GALLO/GETTY]
A separate commentary on the People's Daily website was more direct, criticising comments from some internet users who had suggested that Liu had simply folded under the massive pressure on home soil.

"Perhaps a nation of 1.3 billion should not place the burdens of its aspirations on a boy's shoulders," the commentary said.

Elsewhere an editorial in the Oriental Morning Post, a newspaper based in Liu's hometown of Shanghai, compared Liu's trials with those of Achilles, the Greek warrior hero considered invulnerable but eventually brought down by arrow to his heel.

Chinese fans should be more tolerant and acknowledge that their stars are still only human, the paper said, wishing Liu good luck for the next Olympics in London in 2012.

As for the man himself, Liu has assured his legions of Chinese fans they have not seen the last of him.

"I believe I will come back," he said.