There was a different mood when I walked into the office this morning. Unlike last week when everyone crowded excitedly around the TV to watch the Olympic matches, all were seated, clicking away at their keyboards. The TV wasn't even turned on. It was as if the Games had ended and it was back to the grindstone.
The only reason I can come up with is Liu Xiang.
The 110m hurdler was China's biggest hope at the Bird's Nest. His Athens gold was not only the first track and field gold for China, but for Asia as well. His athletic success and good looks put him on all the billboards in Beijing. Even after his world record was broken by Cuba's Dayron Robles earlier this summer, everyone in China was confident Liu would get the gold.
Before the race there was so much pressure on Liu that I wondered if he would crack. Watching him limp off the track yesterday, a foreign co-worker and I even looked at each other thinking: "Did he do it on purpose?"
I'm sure he didn't. All of China is miserable about his withdrawal from the race. A China Daily online survey reports that nearly half of respondents think Liu's absence from the 110m hurdle race will harm the overall quality of the Olympic track and field competition. One report even quoted a woman with tears in her eyes who waited at the stadium for an hour, refusing to believe Liu wouldn't be racing.
Even watching at the office yesterday there were about 20 people gathered around the TV to see Liu's race, twice as many as usual. The women giggled when he took his shirt off and the men pushed past each other to get a better view. When he limped off the track everyone was confused. Most stared in disbelief. No one really knew what happened.
His coach, who broke down crying during a press conference, blamed Liu's injured Achilles tendon. Other than that, there was little explanation.
There was so much hype about Liu that I'm even in disbelief. The Games really won't be the same without him.