SHANGHAI - Liu Xiang, still struggling to rid himself of the injury that has dogged him since the Beijing Olympics, is not even the best high hurdler in China anymore on the evidence of Sunday's Diamond League meeting in Shanghai.
The former 110m Olympic and world champion finished third behind Olympic bronze medallist David Oliver and, even more surprising, his compatriot Shi Dongpeng.
But his expectations are so low now that far from being depressed by being so soundly beaten - Oliver ran 12,99 seconds to his 13,40 - the 26-year-old was encouraged by his performance in his home city.
"13,40 is a good time for me now. I was very happy to make that time today," the 26-year-old told reporters.
"My foot was definitely not right. For me it was quite a challenge. Competition relies on training, systematic, intensive and high quality training. But I have had none."
This was a far cry from the days when Liu won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, setting the then world record of 12,88 seconds in Lausanne in 2006 and taking the world title in Osaka a year later.
His secret was not the devastating power of hulking Americans like Oliver, but the quick feet and sublime technique that allowed him to overhaul the bigger men over the 10 hurdles.
The decline began during messy preparations for what was supposed to be his finest hour, the 2008 Olympics, and such was the secrecy that surrounded him, speculation ran wild that he was mentally or physically damaged.
The pain etched on his face as he left the Bird's Nest after failing to start the August 18 heats settled that debate and an Achilles injury took the blame for ending Chinese gold medal hopes. - Reuters