ALEX COHEN, host:
After winning 39 gold medals, China is now reeling from the shock exit of its biggest Olympic gold medal star, hurdler Liu Xiang. Earlier today, he hobbled off the track after a false start; he was suffering from a tendon injury. NPR's Louisa Lim has been finding out how China treats those who don't win.
LOUISA LIM: One of the earliest iconic images of the Olympics here was the sobbing Chinese shooter Du Li. She'd been expected to win China's first gold as defending champion at 10 meters air rifle. But she cracked under the pressure and came fifth. On TV, she seemed heartbroken.
Ms. DU LI (Olympic Shooter, China): (Through translator) There's still hope I can cause the national flag to be raised. I really tried my very hardest.
LIM: Local media reports speculated she may have been distracted by the financial rewards of victory. China's gold medalists will get tax-free bonuses, estimated at $200,000, from local and central governments. TV Sports Commentator (Unintelligible) Xian (ph) says a gold medal ensures an athlete's income long after their sporting life is over.
Mr. XIAN (Chinese Sports Commentator): They can have a job or a position in the sport bureau or any kind of government branch who is in charge of sport and games. So they are guaranteed a good life, even after their retirement.
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LIM: Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang advertising Visa in the run-up to the Olympics. As the first-ever Chinese gold medalist in track and field, he earned $23 million this year, according to Forbes. But today, his Olympics was over after one false start because of injury.
Sports marketers say it will affect his commercial value, with some sponsors unlikely to renew contracts. For China's average sports fans, losing was once seen as an affront to the nation. China's prince of gymnastics, Li Ning, who lit the Olympic flame in Beijing, found that out in 1988. Adam Xian (ph), chief executive of sports marketer Key Solutions.
Mr. ADAM XIAN (CEO, Key Solutions): (Through translator) After Li Ning fell off the vaulting horse in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, lots of people wrote him letters cursing him. Someone even sent him a rope to hang himself. But now, there's been a huge change. People are much more tolerant.
(Soundbite of Chinese Nation Anthem)
LIM: Chinese audiences have gotten used to hearing their national anthem over the past few days. And that massive gold medal horde has made them more tolerant to failure. Commentator (Unintelligible) Xian says more exposure to NBA and European football has also played its part.
Mr. XIAN: People have seen victories. People have seen relegations, tears and smiles. I think, after these games, Chinese people will not be as interested as before in the Olympic medals. We are proud enough.
(Soundbite of Chinese ad)
LIM: This new acceptance of human frailty has helped failed shooter Du Li. She'd clearly been expecting condemnation but instead found widespread sympathy. Then four days later, much to fans' delight, she redeemed herself by winning gold at the 50 meters rifle and setting a new Olympic record. Without a second chance these games, hurdler Liu Xiang will have to wait far longer to find redemption. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.