Shanghai-based Xiaodi Zhang, product management executive at eBay and co-founder of HopStix, a new China travel review site for sharing about food and travel, writes on cnreviews.com:
Why has Liu Xiang meant so much to the Chinese?
The answer is clear. Liu Xiang did not medal in ping-pong or men’s gymnastics. Liu Xiang medaled in Track & Field, an arena that China never even hoped to be competitive in. By accomplishing what seemed to most as the impossible, Liu Xiang captured the national imagination and brought a new sense of hope and possibility to China. He represented “new” China, China’s future, China’s Olympics. The possibility that he could repeat the feat in China’s Olympics, on Chinese soil, became what everyone fervently anticipated in the Beijing Games.
See also a report from the New York Times about the commercial consequence of Liu’s withdrawal:
Mr. Liu, 25, is China’s answer to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, combined. His image can be seen on billboards in virtually every major Chinese city, and in global marketing campaigns for Nike. A life-size replica of him hurdling, decked in Nike gear, appears in Nike stores in the capital. A giant picture of him hangs in the Coca-Cola center on the Beijing Games’ Olympic green. Ads for Visa endow him with superhuman capabilities, showing him chasing a kangaroo.
“Liu Xiang represents the dreams of all the Chinese,” said Terry Rhoads, managing director at Zou Marketing, a Beijing sports marketing consultancy. “He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime athletes.”
Which raises the questions: What will sponsors do now that he is no longer racing? And what about all those advertisements they may have been preparing to celebrate him winning gold at the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest?