BEIJING, Aug 21 (Reuters) – World record-holder Dayron Robles of Cuba swept to victory in the Olympic 110 metres hurdles on Thursday to take the athletics gold medal hosts China had been craving for one of their own.
The bespectacled 21-year-old combined pace and sublime technique to cross the line a metre clear of the field in 12.93 seconds and win the title China's injured Liu Xiang claimed in Athens four years ago.
The confident Robles was the only runner to go under 13 seconds and celebrated by striking a strongman pose before summoning a Cuban flag from the crowd.
World champion Liu departed the Olympics that were supposed to define his career after being unable to start his first-round heat because of an Achilles injury on Monday.
"I love China and Liu Xiang is my friend," said Robles.
"I'm happy, I'm champion. I'm ecstatic. It's always been my dream," said the Cuban, who had matched compatriot Anier Garcia's feat in the event at the 2000 Sydney Games.
"I felt calm before before going into the race. I was confident about how things would go."
American David Payne won silver in 13.17, just edging his compatriot David Oliver, who claimed bronze in 13.18.
"(Robles) is amazing and could not be stopped," said 26-year-old Payne. "He's a phenomenon. One day very soon, I'm going to go with him and hopefully beat him."
Frenchman Ladji Doucoure, whose career has been blighted by injury since he beat Liu to the 2005 world title, finished fourth in 13.24.
Robles, who bettered Liu's world mark with a time of 12.87 in June, received a rousing reception at the start from the crowd, some of whom had queued for days to get what had been one of the hottest tickets of the Games.
From the moment he got out of the blocks and over the first hurdle with his huge gold crucifix bouncing up and down on his chest, his victory never looked in doubt.
Blessed with the same smooth hurdling technique as Liu combined with the quick feet of the more powerful Americans, Robles grazed just one hurdle on his way to an emphatic victory.
"I've learned a lot over the past couple of years, and my technique has improved significantly this year," he said.
Robles also won praise from his country's greatest track Olympian.
"It was a difficult race, but technically, from the beginning to the end, it was fantastic technically," said Alberto Juantorena, Olympic champion in 400m and 800m in 1976. (Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer, Liu Zhen and Jason Subler; editing by Keith Weir)