Originally published Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:24 PM

Liu vs. Robles, a great hurdles rematch

Whatever plans you had for Aug. 8, 2012, cancel them. Unless, of course, you have a ticket for the men's 110-meter hurdles final at the London Olympics, in which case, you can now consider yourself extremely lucky.

AP Sports Columnist

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DAEGU, South Korea —

Whatever plans you had for Aug. 8, 2012, cancel them. Unless, of course, you have a ticket for the men's 110-meter hurdles final at the London Olympics, in which case, you can now consider yourself extremely lucky.

"Clash of the Communists" or "Robles' Revenge." The Olympic marketers have 12 months to come up with a catchy slogan for what now could be THE race of the 2012 Games.

Usain Bolt who? Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles, the two fastest hurdlers in history, overshadowed the world's speediest sprinter Monday at the world championships in one of the most drama-packed races you could hope to witness.

Until London, that is. Their hoped-for rematch looks mouthwatering thanks to this.

Although these things aren't a certainty, it did look as though Robles hooked Liu's wrist, knocking him off his stride, as they bounded side-by-side over the second-to-last hurdle, and just as the kid from Shanghai was getting his nose ahead.

The Cuban seemed, just for an instant, to wrap a finger or two of his right hand around Liu's left wrist, throwing off his balance and his metronome stride. Destabilized, Liu clattered into the final hurdle, knocking it over, and they banged wrists again. Half-sprinting, half-stumbling, Liu dipped over the line in third place. Robles was first, just ahead of America's Jason Richardson.

The Cuban who took away Liu's world record in 2008, and then followed that by taking the Olympic gold that all of China hoped would go to its biggest track and field star, seemed to know straight away that something was amiss. Robles put a hand to his head as if angry with himself and then immediately turned around to give Liu a hug.

Chinese coaches and officials in their bright red team shirts sprang out of their seats and packed into the organizers' office in the guts of Daegu Stadium. There, they carefully filled out a written formal protest.

"He grabbed him!" said Liu's mother, Ji Fenhua, up in the stands. "It was on purpose!"

Still thinking at that point that the win was his, and with officials yet to rule on the Chinese complaint, Robles explained away the coming-together as one of the risks of men negotiating 10 hurdles at a sprint, all flailing arms and legs.

"It's something that happens in the hurdles," he said. "We're running so close to each other."

Four-time world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Allen Johnson agreed.

"He did not grab him," Johnson said of Robles. "The lanes are not wide enough for hurdlers to not swing into someone else. It happens all the time."

Poor Liu. Talk about bad luck. A bum Achilles tendon ruined what was meant to be his moment of glory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Fans in the Bird's Nest wept as the 2004 champion limped off in what he later described as "unbearable" pain and with what the China Daily called "the look that brought tears to billions of eyes."

Four months later came surgery where a doctor in Texas who also operated on Houston Rockets center Yao Ming removed four small pieces of bone - ranging in size from a pea to a bean - from Liu's aching heel.

The road back was long and bumpy.

"He was very depressed, because he didn't know if he would get better," his father, Liu Xuegeng, said before watching his son's race Monday.

Then came this latest twist.

Word filtered out that Robles had been disqualified, deemed guilty by the referee of violating rule 163.2 that says an athlete "who jostles or obstructs another athlete, so as to impede his progress" can be DQ'ed.

The referee could have ordered the race re-held but instead bumped everyone up a place. Liu's bronze became silver. Second-place Richardson got Robles' gold and Andrew Turner of Britain got bronze, beating American co-favorite David Oliver in a photo finish.

Robles, Liu and Oliver are the three fastest hurdlers ever, with just a hair's breadth between their best times. Robles' world record of 12.87 is just one-hundredth of a second quicker than Liu's best, which in turn is one-hundredth faster than Oliver's best, set last year. This was their first meeting in a final of a global championship and, therefore, arguably the most hotly anticipated race of these championships.

For Liu's coach, Sun Haiping, Robles' disqualification was bittersweet, because he couldn't forget that Liu had come so close to the win.

"This shows that the title was snatched away from Liu Xiang. That's a fact," he said. The lesson he drew was that Liu needs speedier starts, to quickly build a gap between him and the field.

"That way, no one will be able to grab Liu Xiang, not unless you grab his clothes," he said.

Then came the Cuban riposte. A small posse of officials lodged their own appeal against Robles' disqualification.

Robles laid out on the floor outside the room where athletics officials considered it.

Their eventual ruling: rejected.

Robles picked up his bags. Visibly distraught and swatting away journalists' microphones, he climbed into an SUV and sped away.

Bring on London!


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or follow him at

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