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Thorpe's early retirement makes a splash in China

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe's retirement at 24, still sending shockwaves around his home country Australia, was felt strongly in China which stands to lose one of the great box office draws for the 2008 Games.

The news was enough to knock NBA sensation Yao Ming and the Chinese men's volleyball team from the sporting headlines on Wednesday, with state newspapers devoting near page-long tributes to the hugely popular swimmer.

''Thorpedo Stops Launching!'' the Beijing Youth Daily proclaimed in a banner headline jammed against a near full-scale image of Thorpe's unshaven face grinning wryly at a camera.

''Goodbye to the Flying Thorpedo -- Thorpe Retires and Embarks Upon a Beautiful and Unknown Path'', a headline on China news Web site Sina.com read.

In an emotional tribute titled ''The Fish That Would No Longer Swim,'' the Beijing News lamented that Thorpe was too young to bid farewell.

''His departure is cruel, and leaves people in anguish. This young man dubbed ''Thorpedo'', known to people as the 'big-footed wonder', won five Olympic golds and broke 13 world records.'' China central television showed pictures of Thorpe walking down catwalks at fashion shows and flirting with three-times Australian Open tennis champion Martina Hingis.

Thorpe, who drew screaming fans on a promotional visit to China in 2004, will miss Beijing in 2008 and a genuine tilt at being the first male swimmer to win gold at three consecutive Olympic Games after announcing his retirement on Tuesday.

REUTERS PM HT1750

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