Hurdling superstar Liu Xiang, the most celebrated track and field athlete from the world's most populous country, crashed out of a second straight Olympics without clearing a single barrier.
Liu, who became China's first male track and field Olympic champion when he won gold in the 110m hurdles in Athens in 2004, was understood to have ruptured his Achilles tendon at the start of his heat on Tuesday morning.
He came into the London Games under an injury cloud and his right leg was heavily strapped before the race.
Liu crashed heavily into the first hurdle with his leading left leg, before getting up and hopping down the straight.
He was embraced by fellow competitors and then taken from the stadium on a wheelchair.
It was eerily similar to his desperately sad departure from his home Olympics in Beijing four years ago.
On that occasion, he withdrew at the starting blocks and later underwent surgery on his right foot.
China's head athletics coach Feng Shuyong said on Tuesday that medical reports would confirm whether the 29-year-old Liu had ruptured his Achilles tendon.
"I feel really sorry about this situation," said Feng.
"We're not sure exactly what happened and we're not sure if it's the same injury that happened four years ago.
"I also feel very proud of him.
"After what happened before in Beijing he worked very hard to get back here.
"I appreciate what he has done for China, he tried hard to get better every day.
"Not everyone could bear this pressure, but he did."
Liu had battled foot and back problems in the lead-up to the Games but had still been expected to challenge for a medal, having finish second at last year's world championships.
Feng said Liu had recently stepped up the intensity of his training to replicate the London Olympic program, which required him to race three times in less than 36 hours.
"That might be one of the reasons for the injury," said Feng.
"But we still didn't expect it would happen like this today."
Although the latest setback could well spell the end of a celebrated career that netted Liu the 2007 world title and the 2004 Olympic gold medal, it still did not have the same impact as his departure from Beijing.
Liu had been billed as the face of the 2008 Games, in much the same way as Cathy Freeman was eight years earlier in Sydney, and for many Chinese it was unthinkable that he would miss out on the gold medal, let along fail to start his heat.
Leading American hurdler Aries Merritt said Liu had looked in good shape during the warm-up on Tuesday.
""He looked fine before the race, like nothing was wrong with him," said Merritt.
"He warmed up great. He always has a good warm-up and he was happy and so I don't think anything was wrong with him going into the race.
"I just think he made a small mistake, like he ran up on the hurdles a little bit too quickly and he wasn't prepared to take the hurdle at such velocity.
"He hit it and if you hit a hurdle in the fashion that he hit it there's no way to recover from something like that."