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Published: Friday December 11, 2009 MYT 11:32:00 AM
HONG KONG: Former Olympic and world champion hurdler Liu Xiang took center stage at the East Asian Games on Friday, as one of China's biggest sports stars competed in his fourth race since a foot injury forced him out of the Beijing Olympics last year.
Liu easily won his heat in the men's 110-meter hurdles in 14.02 seconds, slowing to nearly a walk as he crossed the finish line, and he's expected to easily win in the final later Friday.
The 26-year-old Liu's appearance in Hong Kong is being closely watched because he's on the comeback from surgery on his right Achilles tendon last December.
His withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics - at the starting line in the heats - disappointed a nation, and Chinese fans are cheering for him to return to the form that won him gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and powered him to a world record in 2006.
The partisan crowd at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground in suburban Hong Kong cheered enthusiastically when Liu entered the stadium, warming up in a white T-shirt printed with the Chinese character for "xiang," which translates to flight.
The hurdler did not take questions from reporters after his heat.
His first three races since surgery have all been in mainland China.
At the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix in September, he tied with American Terrence Trammell with a time of 13.15 seconds but finished second in the a finish.
In October, he clocked 13.34 in his winning run at China's National Games. In November, he won at the Asian Athletic Championship in Guangzhou in 13.50.
Those times are still far off the world record of 12.87 seconds held by Cuba's Dayron Robles, and his own personal best of 12.88.
Japan's Kayo Sugihara won the women's 10,000 meters in in 33 minutes, 55.43 seconds, the first of 11 gold medals on offer in track and field on Friday.
Three golds are being awarded on the first day of diving, six in rowing and three on the last day of the weightlifting competition.
Taiwan will play South Korea in the men's basketball final, while Taiwan will face China in the women's championship match. - AP
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