SHANGHAI (AFP) - China's greatest track and field athlete Liu Xiang said goodbye to his adoring fans in his hometown of Shanghai Sunday in a tearful ceremony after the Diamond League meeting.
"I have been moved by your concern for me, your understanding and your encouragement," said Liu, the 110m hurdles champion at the 2004 Olympics, a month after he announced his retirement.
"I am grateful and very honoured," added the 31-year-old, his eyes glazing as he struggled to contain his emotions.
Many fans at Shanghai Stadium stood motionless with their hands over their mouths, while others wiped tears as Liu spoke from the trackside.
Liu's retirement last month sparked an outpouring of emotion for an athlete who was loved for his achievements and also won wide sympathy for his heart-breaking setbacks.
After claiming China's first men's track and field gold at Athens, Liu was hotly tipped to claim victory at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but limped out of the first heat, stunning home fans at the Bird's Nest stadium.
Despite appearing to hit form leading up to London 2012, Liu clattered into the first hurdle in his opening heat and after being helped up, he hopped the length of the track before symbolically kissing the last barrier and exiting the arena. He has not run competitively since.
"I am very happy that today I have an opportunity to say goodbye," Liu said, before giving his backing to a new generation of Chinese athletes. "I am convinced that from today we will have even more athletes, who are even more outstanding."
China is an emerging power in athletics, with promising 110 hurdler Xie Wenjun and long jump hope Li Jinzhe among those tipped for success.
While neither managed a win in Shanghai Sunday, women's shot-putter Gong Lijiao and javelin-thrower Lu Huihui both claimed victory.