August 20th, 2008
11:51 AM GMT
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When Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang limped off the track the other day, millions of Chinese were shocked and saddened. So were the international companies that have been using the track star to build their brands in China for the past several years.

Liu Xiang pulled out of his race with an agonizing injury.
Liu Xiang pulled out of his race with an agonizing injury.

U.S. sportswear giant Nike quickly took out ads in seven newspapers around the country expressing empathy for Liu.

The ad features a photo of Liu and reads:

LOVE COMPETITION
LOVE RISKING YOUR PRIDE
LOVE WINNING IT BACK
LOVE GIVING IT EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT
LOVE THE GLORY
LOVE THE PAIN

LOVE SPORT EVEN WHEN IT BREAKS YOUR HEART

I don't know about you but, as a former hurdler myself, I found that last line gut-wrenching.

Most people who have competed in sports, at one point or another, know first hand the disappointment that comes with injury or the sickening feeling of defeat.

I can only imagine how much worse it would feel if a billion people were equating the success of the nation with your performance.

Talk about pressure.

Obviously, Liu's sponsors are showing him a lot of support and say they plan to stand by him. But for how long?

Marketers I spoke to said that the the most important criteria for these brands is to find players that perform.
And sad as it is for Liu and his fans, this time he didn't.

In addition, the games this summer have created a new generation of Chinese medalists from which big international firms can choose to market their brand.

Until now, marketers say, Liu Xiang and basketball star Yao Ming were really the only choices.

So, as a brand, at what point do you pull the plug?

And one more question: who do you think are going to be the next big sports superstars in China or otherwise? Which athletes during the Beijing games stand out to you?



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