Ming the Merciless became merciful yesterday when the final hooter halted his suffering. In between times, as the centre collapsed on a bench mimicking a type of giant red wilting wallflower and pouring a wasted head deep into his hands, he was Ming the morose. Yao Ming represents the Houston Rockets in the NBA, but there is no longer any room for his 7ft 6in frame at the Games.
Neither is there any space for China after they were dismantled by Lithuania in an execution of a quarter-final. The 94-68 winning margin tells enough about the type of caning China suffered. An exhausted Yao left the game with four minutes remaining after being buffeted and bullied for over 30 minutes. He was forced to take leave of the action, before looking like he had taken leave of his senses.
According to China's Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas, the plan to stifle Yao was wrong. "They doubled and tripled on Yao. I don't agree with some of those decisions," said Kazlauskas, a man who coached Lithuania to Olympic bronze eight years ago. "Sometimes it didn't look like basketball, the decisions Lithuania were making." Lithuania had no problems stifling Yao. "We said the big guy is not going to hurt anybody," said Lithuania's centre Robertas Javtokas. "In Lithuania, basketball is like a religion. I don't think it's like that in any other country."
That is probably wrong. Every sport in which China competes at these Olympics is carried to a higher plane by their impassioned people, and especially one when big men, literally in the case of Yao, try to fulfil national service. The medals mount for the Chinese. It was over 40 golds at the end of yesterday, but their heroes continue to fall. Two days after a nation wailed as Liu Xiang hobbled out of the heats of the 110 metres hurdles, it was time for Yao to depart.
The Chinese people continue to invest as much emotion as finance into these Games. Yao was philosophical about his team's departure. "I think we got this far with our courage, but we had our limitations," he said. The frantic and teary Chinese should perhaps adopt such a philosophy as a new proverb in the death throes of the Games. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org