(New York Times) Star Hurdler Apologizes to China for Withdrawal. Jim Yardley. August 19, 2008.
After Liu hobbled off the track, China’s Internet was filled with comments that ranged from sympathetic to deeply suspicious, with some people blaming officials or even his corporate sponsors for staging his exit.
By Monday afternoon, China’s propaganda authorities had issued an order forbidding the country’s news media from criticizing Liu or probing into the details of his withdrawal, according to one Chinese journalist. Coverage of Liu’s situation in the state news media was almost uniformly sympathetic.
Here is an example of a popular Internet forum that was 'harmonized' inside China but continues to be available on Chinese-language Internet forums outside mainland China.
Perhaps this is not the right moment, but as an informed person at the Nike marketing headquarters in China, I have decided to reveal certain secrets that may never be made known! Since winning Olympic gold and especially after setting the world record of 12.88 seconds, there have been more and more commercial activities for Liu Xiang. Our company, VISA, Amway and others, commercials, public appearances, the activities never stop. His coach Sun Haiping was actually quite unhappy and protested many times to Liu Xiang's financial managers that this was detrimental to Liu Xiang in terms of keeping fit. But in face of the huge economic interests, Liu's financial managers did not compromise with an old man who is only into sports. Thus, everybody saw Liu Xiang attend one after another commercial activity, starred in one after another advertisement ... (of course, we at Nike contributed too).
Early in 2008, Liu Xiang's results were a lot worse than in his championship years and his fitness was worse. Often, he could only fit some training sessions in between commercial activities and that cannot be said to be systematic training. At the time, his financial managers hoped that he could go into secluded intense training during the last three months before the Olympics and recover his fitness.
But by that time, people had seen the amazing performances of the Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles. Sun Haiping shook his head in amazement, but he has no speaking rights within the financial team because he is only a coach. At that time, Liu Xiang did not object because the financial interests are too huge. Actually, this is understandable because many Chinese athletes work so hard for the sake of the huge economic returns after they become famous. He also believed that he would be able to catch up to the stellar Robles in the final several months.
But they never expected that the lack of training over the long term had caused Liu Xiang's body to be unable to satisfy the huge demands of heavy training. The result was that Liu Xiang was 'accidentally' injured in the Grand Prix race in the United States. This was actually a huge blow to Liu and Sun, because it disrupted all the arrangements. There was no way to cancel on all the contracted commercial activities, and he could not train while he was injured. So he had to continue to do advertisements and make public appearances. He did not have time to recuperate, much less to train.
Here it must be mentioned that Liu Xiang's sponsors have a negative influence. Foreigners and Chinese alike have very short-term vision. They have goals that must be accomplished. They know commercial appearances would directly affect the Olympic performance, but the pressure on them (including my company) continued with a full schedule. Actually, we had no choice because the American headquarters has no sympathy for athletes and they only care about their sales figures. As Chinese, we may not like it but we had to follow the orders in order to keep our jobs. Even if we didn't do it, somebody else would.
When the Olympics began, Liu Xiang found out that even though his injury has healed, his condition was far from good enough to win an Olympic medal. As sponsor (including Nike which has a bigger stake because we sell sports accessories), we usually communicate with the sponsored athletes before important events in order to gauge their predicted result. This will allow us to determine if we continue our contract. Back then, we signed Liu Xiang before he won Olympic gold based upon the same policy. When we learned that Liu Xiang had no chance to win, we informed the American headquarters and then they woke up. We held a video conference with Liu Xiang's financial team that day. If Liu Xiang cannot defend his title (or even win any medal), then his value would definitely shrink and we would receive no return on the vast sum that we invested in him as spokesperson. A contract is a contract, and we cannot break it. Therefore, we can only find a way to minimize the losses for our company.
The first proposal was to reduce Liu Xiang's fees, but it was instantly rejected by his team. They had signed a contract and they will not compromise. There was a stalemate over several weeks when neither side budged. During this period, there was news that Liu Xiang had recovered. Actually, we knew that was a strategy by Liu's team. They have many contacts in the media including government people and much of his income goes to the sports authorities. Therefore, these media reports are understandable. As a company that has been in China for many years, we are only too familiar with it. We could not possibly take it seriously.
The stalemate was broken when a senior manager from the American headquarters came up with a shocking proposal: Liu Xiang will withdraw under the pretext of injury. The reasons are: (1) it saves face for Liu Xiang; (2) as sponsor, we won't incur too much loss since the athlete withdrew due to an unpredictable injury and people won't resent him. If he could actually recover and compete again, we will have more things to hype about.
This proposal was accepted by everybody and we quickly reached a consensus. Then we began to orchestrate the news that you saw later, including the pre-race reports, the moment to withdraw, etc ...
Actually, the tears of coach Sun Haiping came from his year. In my view, he was really sorry that a talented person had to fall to the power of money and he was helpless to stop it.
Liu Xiang is just one of many stars to fall under the force of money ... but I hope that he would be the last.
[ESWN Comment: This post is fiction because of internal self-contradictions as well as conflicts with known external events.]
(The Statesman) Sponsor denies role in Liu pullout, requests investigation. August 19, 2008.
Nike today issued a strong denial of Internet rumours that it forced Chinese athletics hero Liu Xiang to pull out of the Olympics, adding it had asked authorities to investigate the posting.
“The posting is a malicious rumour, and has not only misled netizens, but also seriously damages the company's reputation,” Nike, one of Liu's major sponsors, said in a statement emailed to AFP.
“We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumour.”