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Agony, jubilation
Liu out, Liukin edged, US sweeps hurdles

BEIJING - Welcome to the rest of the Beijing Olympics - the Summer Games of 2008, A.P.

After Phelps.

The games continued Monday in search of a new headliner now that Michael Phelps has toweled off for the last time. The Bird's Nest seemed the likeliest place for someone to emerge and, indeed, the big news of the day came from the track.

However, it wasn't good news. It was the sad sight of Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang limping to the starting blocks, trying to race through injuries and quickly finding out he couldn't.

To understand how big a deal this is, you have to understand how big a deal he is.

Liu is China's first-ever male gold medalist in track, having won the 110 meters in Athens. Folks have spent the last four years expecting him to do it again on home turf, and in this land of 1.3 billion people, he's nearly as much of a celebrity - not just sports star, full-fledged celebrity - as their main man, Yao Ming.

That's why people inside the stadium cried. Why folks watching at subway stations gasped. Why his personal coach was too overcome with grief to speak at a news conference.

The Olympics, however, still went on Monday, without Liu or Phelps. At least there's still Usain Bolt and his bid to become the first winner of the 100- and 200-meter races since Carl Lewis in 1984.

Bolt was second in his opening-round heat of the 200 in the morning, then easily won his quarterfinal heat at night, jogging down the stretch and still topping the reigning champ Shawn Crawford of the United States by several strides.

Other notable events included another rout by the U.S. men's basketball and softball teams, a frustrating silver for gymnast Nastia Liukin and a bad break, in more ways than one, for U.S. cyclists.

The United States still tops the medals table, now with 72, but China continues to run away with the most golds. With four more Monday, the Chinese are up to 39 (more than the overall count for any country but the U.S.), while the Americans have 22.

Also, Britain is up to 12 gold medals, its most since 1920, and kudos to male long jumper Irving Saladino for picking up Panama's first-ever gold in any sport.

Track and field

The U.S. flag finally rose at the Bird's Nest, and it came from an unexpected source when Stephanie Brown Trafton won the women's discus. It went up again later when Angelo Taylor won the 400-meter hurdles, with Americans Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson taking silver and bronze.

After capturing only one of six possible medals in the men's and women's 100, watching the 1,500-meter team of Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong and Leo Manzano all fail to advance past the semifinals, and seeing Terrence Trammell get hurt in the opening heat of the 110 hurdles, Brown Trafton's victory was a much-needed lift. The 400 sweep was awfully nice, too, something no country had done since the U.S. in 1960.

Also, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva won her second consecutive gold in women's pole vault, topping American rival Jenn Stuczynski and then upping her own world record to 16 feet, 63/4 inches; Brimin Kipruto made it seven straight Olympics that Kenyans have won the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase; and 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo led a 1-2 Kenya finish in the women's 800.

Despite the pain of a lingering hamstring problem and the added bother of a tendon flare-up in his right foot, national pride carried Liu to the start line.

He took off at the gun, took three strides and then began hopping on his left leg, the good one. Someone else false-started, so he could have tried again, but there was no way. He peeled the lane-assignment number off each leg and headed for a tunnel.

'He couldn't imagine the pain he was suffering,' said China's track and field coach, Feng Shuyong. 'Let me repeat: Liu Xiang will not withdraw unless the pain is unbearable.'

So the guy who croons in a music video, appears in TV commercials and looms on billboards will no longer have his gold-medal defense play out daily Monday through Thursday.

'After Liu Xiang's injury, I won't bother coming back to the Bird's Nest for more,' a 67-year-old Chinese fan said as he left the stadium.

Gymnastics

It's a good thing Nastia Liukin already won the all-around, because the way she got silver in the uneven bars is enough to drive a gal nuts.

Liukin and China's He Kexin got the same score, requiring a tiebreaker because dual medals are no longer awarded in gymnastics. The details are pretty crazy; all that matters is He won and Liukin didn't. He, by the way, is among the girls who many believe is too young to be eligible for these games.

This was Liukin's fourth medal of the games, matching her dad's haul when he competed for the Soviet Union. Coincidentally, one of Valeri Liukin's golds, on high bar in 1988, came in a tie.

Oddly, there also was a deadlock for the men's vault gold, which went to Poland's Leszek Blanik.

Chen Yibing extended China's perfect run of gold by winning the still rings competition. That string ended only because no Chinese men qualified for vault.

Liukin's silver gave the United States six overall medals. China has five, including team gold.

Also, China's He Wenna won the women's trampoline.

Men's basketball

The 'Redeem Team' keeps powering through the Olympics, crushing Dirk Nowitzki and Germany 106-57. Next up: A quarterfinals game against Australia, which gave the U.S. team its only close competition thus far in an exhibition game two weeks ago. The winner goes to the semifinals against the Argentina-Greece winner.

'We feel like we're playing very well right now, but you have to keep in mind it's single elimination,' Kobe Bryant said. 'You can't afford any slip-ups.'

China secured a spot in the medal round despite losing 91-77 to Greece. Yao Ming and his pals will next play Lithuania, while Spain will face Croatia, the winners of those games meeting in the other semifinal.

Baseball

The U.S. team beat China 9-1 in a game that featured rough play such as a home-plate collision that knocked out China's top player, a retaliatory hit batsman and three ejections.

Also, American second baseman Jayson Nix - still recovering from a foul ball off his left eye that resulted in surgery, stitches, bruises and fuzzy vision - said he hopes to still return to Olympic play.

'If the doctors say he can go, he says he can go and (manager Davey Johnson) says he can go, he can go,' said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's executive director. 'Time will tell, but he's not a guy you write off.'

South Korea remained unbeaten with a wild 9-8 victory over Taiwan and Japan beat Canada 1-0.

Softball

It was a nine-run first inning against the hostesses on the way to a 9-0 win over China, leaving the Americans two wins from another gold medal. Their win streak is up to 23; two more and they get another gold before their sport goes off the docket until at least 2016.

Up next is Japan, already a 7-0 loser to the U.S., although their ace was saved for the rematch.

Canada lost to Japan 6-0, but advanced to a semifinal game against Australia.

Women's soccer

Get ready for a rematch. Just like 2004, the final will pit the United States and Brazil.

The Americans advanced by beating Japan 4-2.

Women's field hockey

No goals. No more Olympics for the U.S. women, who were eliminated after a scoreless draw with Britain. The Americans went 1-1-3, remaining without a medal since 1984.

This was their first Olympics since 1996, when they got in automatically as the host nation.