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Liu back, but track timetable uncertain

CHINESE hurdler Liu Xiang came home to Shanghai last night, three months after he went to the United States for an operation on the ankle injury that forced him out of the Beijing Olympics.

The 26-year-old Shanghai native arrived at Pudong International Airport around 6:30pm along with coach Sun Haiping and four officials from the country's sports administration.

Liu's return came three days earlier than scheduled after doctors at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas, confirmed in a physical check on Thursday that his recovery was better than expected.

The star hurdler declined interviews at the airport and went home directly to meet his parents.

Coach Sun said there's still no exact timetable for when Liu, the 2004 Olympic champion and former world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, will be able to start getting back in form.

"American doctors suggest we should be patient before allowing Liu to wear his track spikes again," the coach said.

Sun said Liu will start recovery training immediately tomorrow, and will visit doctors at Huashan Hospital this week for a checkup.

Liu, the most successful Chinese sprinter, quit his event and limped out of the National Stadium at the Beijing Olympics with an injured Achilles tendon on August 18, stunning an entire nation that had been expecting him to lead China's gold medal campaign.

In December, doctors in Houston removed four small pieces of bone from the Achilles' tendon of Liu's right foot during an hour-long operation, the athlete's first.

The injury occurred over time, resulting in microscopic tearing of the tendon's fibers, which caused bleeding.

The injury process produced calcium and resulted in the bone pieces forming within the tendon, according to Dr Thomas Clanton, who performed the operation.

Clanton also operated on NBA all-star Yao Ming, also a Shanghai native, for a stress fracture in his left foot earlier last year. Clanton said Liu would recover fully in six months and could compete at the same performance level as before the injury.

Because Liu has been forced to stay off the track for more than six months, his world ranking has fallen to 23rd from last year's 15th among 110-meter hurdlers on the latest list from the International Association of Athletics.

Cuba's Dayron Robles, who broke Liu's mark and set a new world record of 12:87 seconds last June, ranked first. The Cuban athlete also took the gold in the 110-meter hurdles in Beijing.


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