Whether he likes it or not, Liu Xiang—China's biggest sports star—will be carrying the hopes of the world's most populous nation as he defends his title in the 110-meter hurdles at the Beijing Olympics. A recent race at the new Bird's Nest Stadium demonstrated the frenzy he inspires: the crowd, which soared to 48,000, "roared with excitement when he entered the stadium; cheered when he warmed up over the hurdles, and screamed when he stripped to his racing singlet," the Australian reports.
The 6-foot-2 24-year-old won gold at the 2004 games, and has since broken the world record in the event, though his winning time last weekend was "a cruise." Liu is keeping his cool despite the mounting pressure, writes the New York Times. "The Olympics is just another race in my life," he says. His friend, basketball player Yao Ming, who is also training for the Olympics, has offered advice. “He just told me to treat it like everyday life,” Liu said. (Read more Liu Xiang stories.)