So crushing was the sense of disappointment when hurdler Liu Xiang dropped out of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 that Dayron Robles, a major rival, felt he should offer a few words of advice.
Liu should find a girlfriend, the Cuban hurdler suggested. “It’s time for him to do it. Life is not all about tracks and hurdles.”
Liu has just gone one better than Robles suggested, marrying the actress-and-model Ge Tian. Last week he posted a weibo photo of himself and Ge leaning against a set of hurdles. “The thing [i.e. the hurdle] and the girl I love most,” he wrote, with his father later confirming that the two had tied the knot.
News about the marriage soon spread online, with most of the attention centred on Liu’s bride. It was revealed that Ge had worked as a cover girl for fashion magazines and has also performed in television series since graduating from Central Academy of Drama in 2012. But most of the interest in Ge was about her looks, with immediate speculation that she has undergone plastic surgery (allegedly in South Korea). After millions of ‘human flesh searches’ online, netizens were soon uncovering less flattering images of the bride when she was younger, prompting claims that she’d gone under the knife.
“She may look like Angelina Jolie but the difference is Jolie’s features are all natural and hers are fake!” one netizen said. “She doesn’t deserve Flying Man [Liu’s nickname]. I just can’t accept it,” another wrote.
Ge’s mother refuted the surgery rumours. “All the charges about my daughter have no basis,” she told Sina. “Both my father and my husband’s father used to be servicemen, and now Ge Tian is also a servicewoman working at the Air ForceLeague. It is impossible she went to South Korea to have plastic surgery as service people are not allowed to go abroad.”
Still, that didn’t seem to stop other speculation about Ge’s former lovers or gossip that the nuptials were brought forward because she is pregnant.
Some of Liu’s fans fear that marriage will distract him from his athletic career (the hurdler has been sidelined with an Achilles injury). Not so, said an official with the Sports Bureau, who told Sina Sports that Liu was back training a week before the marriage took place.
“If he wants to retire, why is he busy training himself?” the official asked. Liu’s father also denied that the athlete would soon retire, although his reasoning won’t have done much to calm the gossip about Ge’s condition.
“Why do people think getting married and giving birth to baby will affect his training?” Liu senior wondered. “Anyway, we can help him take care of the child.”
There were other sympathetic voices about the newlyweds too. “It’s so common for actresses to go under the knife. Is it so wrong to want to look pretty?” one weibo user asked. “As long as the couple is happily married, that’s most important.” Liu’s friend, Olympic gymnast Feng Zhe, also voiced his support: “Brother Xiang is married so we should give him our blessings. But instead netizens are so critical of his wife. I don’t think we are in any position to make these irresponsible judgements about someone else’s spouse.”
Liu, meanwhile, hopes that netizens will give the couple a break: “I think love beats everything else. Now I feel more of a man. I have to shoulder greater responsibilities to take care of my family. I hope everyone around me will be happy.”
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