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Short track star Yang makes a graceful exit to future opportunities
Updated: 2006-02-24 14:33

TURIN, Italy (AP) _ For months, Chinese speedskater Yang Yang said all she wanted was to savor the final Olympics of her career and ignore the pressure to repeat her double gold-medal performance at the last games.

Short track star Yang makes a graceful exit to future opportunities Facing a medal-free run in Turin with her last Olympic race on Saturday, the short track speed skater is making a graceful exit from competition. She'll return to China, to her agent, a luxury car, several apartments and new opportunities.

"There's no need to talk about major regrets," Yang said after the Chinese team was disqualified when a teammate bumped a Canadian skater in the 3,000-meter relay. "For me, from training through competition, everything went smoothly."

Yang is a rare figure in the Chinese sports world, one that shows how fast the industry is changing. Poised, smiling in public and possessed of surprisingly fluent English, Yang is a new breed of sports star: popular, personable and marketable.

"There are probably 10 athletes in China today who would offer endorsement value to brands" and Yang is among them, said Terry Rhoads, general manager for Zou Marketing Inc., a Shanghai-based sports consultancy.

Yang, who turns 30 in August, has been vague about her plans, other than to say she'll finish an economics management degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing and won't leave the world of sports.

Olympic champions don't generally have the cache of professional athletes, given that the Olympics are held once in four years, and short track speed skating is hardly popular.

She won't approach the commercial power of Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets, who gets about US$3 million (euro2.5 million) a year in endorsements, said Rhoads.

In a sports industry that Chinese sports officials estimate has grown to $10 billion (euro8.4 billion) annually from almost nothing a decade ago, Rhoads said Yang should be able to find a comfortable spot, especially if she can win a gold medal in Turin.

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