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Yao's future in doubt as injury said to be career threatening

A TEAM physician said Houston Rockets center Yao Ming's broken left foot could be a "career-threatening" injury. And the return to competition of Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Liu Xiang is on hold because of lingering problems with his injured foot, his coach said.

Dr Tom Clanton, the Houston Rockets' team doctor, told the Houston Chronicle on Monday that Yao's injury "has the potential for him missing this next season and could be career-threatening."

Yahoo! Sports first reported that the Rockets and Yao's representatives were concerned the 7-foot-6 All-Star would never play again. Yahoo! Sports quoted "multiple league executives, officials close to Yao and two doctors with knowledge of the diagnoses."

Yao suffered a hairline fracture of a foot bone in a May 8 playoff game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The team said last week the injury hasn't healed and he was out indefinitely.

Yao played in 77 regular-season games in 2008-09, his most injury-free year since 2004-05, when he played in 80. Before last season, Yao missed chunks of previous three seasons with leg and foot injuries.

He missed 21 games in 2005-06 after surgery to heal an infection to his left big toe, then broke a bone in his left foot with four games left in the regular season.

In 2006-07, Yao missed 32 games after breaking his right leg and he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in 2007-08, underwent surgery and sat out 26 games.

Yao hurried back from that foot injury to represent China in the Beijing Olympics. He made it through the Rockets' season and the first round of the playoffs before breaking his left foot late in the Rockets' 108-94 loss to the Lakers in Game 3 of the second round.

Two days later, Yao said he didn't believe the injury was as serious as any of his previous ones. The Rockets said he would miss only eight to 12 weeks.

But last week, the team said Yao would undergo additional tests and consult with other doctors to map out a new course of treatment.

Yao is due to make more than US$16 million next season with a player option for 2010-11 that would pay him over US$17 million. He was the top overall pick by the Rockets in the 2002 draft.

As for Liu, the 2004 Athens Olympic gold medalist has already ruled out defending his world championship title in August, although he has resumed light training after surgery on his right foot in December at Houston, Texas.

"We feel satisfied about Liu's recovery and the medical check revealed that his tendon is getting better but it's not enough yet. He still needs time before coming back to competition," Liu's longtime coach, Sun Haiping, said.

The World Championships are in Berlin in August, followed by the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix event in September.

Liu's injury kept him from defending his 110-meter hurdles title at last summer's Beijing Games, where he shocked the stadium crowd by withdrawing at the start line in the heats. He was China's best hope to win a gold medal in athletics at Beijing.

"There's really no need to rush. It is immature for him to run in competitions at this moment. We can count Liu in when he is fully ready. If he injures his leg again, it will certainly end his career once and for all," Sun told a news conference in Shanghai.

Liu Xiang will ease back into competition at smaller meetings, he said.

The hurdler set a world record of 12.88 seconds for the event in 2005, but Cuba's Dayron Robles lowered the mark to 12.87 last year and took the gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Despite his injury problems, Liu remains one of the most popular and best paid athletes in China, with numerous lucrative endorsement deals.


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