THE Olympics are not always about the winners.
Sometimes, the really indelible memories are etched through an athlete's heartbreak.
Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, the Athens 110m Olympic and former world champion, ensured he left a lasting one after crossing the line in London in a race he never officially finished.
Liu, who became China's first male Oympic track champion after his triumph in 2004, left an expectant nation stunned in his heat in Beijing four years later when an Achilles injury saw him barely get out of the blocks.
Coming into London as one of the favourites, tragedy struck again when he clattered into the first hurdle and crashed to the track in his heat.
Getting to his feet, the 29-year-old went to leave the stadium before he turned around, and, to a huge ovation from the 80,000 crowd, hopped the length of the track on one leg before going over to the final hurdle and kissing it.
After he crossed the finish line, Hungarian competitor Balazs Baji held Liu's arm aloft and the crowd saluted him.
Liu was then helped away by two other rivals, before leaving the stadium in a wheelchair.
Everyone understood his pain. Everyone could appreciate his courage.
Many also will have understood that the London Games were maybe his final chance to rid himself of his Beijing nightmare.
Whether he decides that the long, hard road back to fitness is worth starting all over again will probably not be known for a while.
Given the fortitude he has shown over the last four years, however, it would be rash to presume Liu will retire.
"It is hard to say. Lots of athletes get injured and come back," China's athletics team manager Feng Shuyong said. "It is such a pity, but his spirit is there. It is the true Olympic spirit, that winning is not so important, participation is what matters.
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