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BEIJING 2008

Dancer's accident now official

August 15, 2008|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — After downplaying the incident, Beijing's Olympic organizers acknowledged Thursday that a dancer was paralyzed after a platform collapsed during rehearsals for the opening ceremony.

Liu Yan, 26, fell July 27 while rehearsing a sequence called "Silk Road," in which she was to dance on a painting with scarves swirling around her. The sequence was supposed to last two minutes. Liu is now expected to be paralyzed from the waist down for life.

Making up for their belated reporting, China's official media have spun Liu's tragedy into a tale of national heroism. She has been shown smiling angelically from her bed at a Beijing military hospital, making a V-for-victory sign.

"I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. I fell at the Olympics, but I will be back to create beauty for the world in one way or another," she was quoted as telling an official news service.

Although it is unclear when Olympic organizers first came to the hospital, the Chinese media are now full of reports of their teary bedside visits.

"You sacrificed so much for the Olympics and for China," opening ceremony director Zhang Yimou was quoted as telling her. The Chinese state media described deputy director Zhang Jigan with tears in his eyes saying, "You will be our leading dancer forever. Your name will be written in the program as the leading dancer."

Nevertheless, the Beijing Olympic organizers are taking flak for their late and scanty reporting on the accident.

"Cover Up as Beijing Olympic Dancer Crippled in Fall," read a headline Tuesday in the Epoch Times, the international newspaper of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Initial reports about the accident said Liu had missed a step and was lightly hurt, and for two weeks afterward there was no news of the accident.

But after rumors buzzed on the Internet, which in China often carries news that is censored in the official media, the government was forced to acknowledge what had happened.

The state-controlled China Daily reported Thursday in its online edition that the accident took place when Liu leaped onto a movable platform that collapsed, plunging her into a 10-foot-deep shaft where she landed on her back.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent six hours of surgery. The newspaper described her condition as "high position paraplegia" and said she might remain paralyzed from the waist down.

From her hospital bed, Liu watched another dancer perform her sequence in the Aug. 8 opening ceremony before 91,000 people.

This is not the first controversy associated with the opening ceremony. The Chinese earlier acknowledged that they used lip-syncing for a song because they thought the 7-year-old singer had crooked teeth and wasn't cute enough. Fireworks displays were also enhanced for television.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

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