China bids goodbye to an 'old friend'

09:27, April 23, 2010      

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Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former chief of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who died on Wednesday, shared a number of unforgettable moments and relationships with China as its supporter and as "the old friend of the Chinese people."

Samaranch, who died of heart failure at the age of 89 in Barcelona, led the IOC from 1980 - when China returned to the Olympics after more than two decades - until 2001, when Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games.

Many Chinese remember Samaranch's affectionate pat on the cheek of Chinese table tennis super star Deng Yaping when he awarded her the women's singles gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. He then established a friendship with Deng after he was inspired by her aggressive playing style.

"I am shocked by the news," said Deng, a multiple Olympic gold medalist in table tennis. "I am very sad. As a sportsperson, he led the Olympic movement to a new peak, a new era."

President Hu Jintao sent a message of condolence to the IOC and Samaranch's family on Thursday, according to the foreign ministry, an honor that is usually reserved for heads of state.

"Mr Samaranch was the old friend and good friend of the Chinese people," said Hu in his message to the family and IOC. "He made great contributions to China's return to the IOC, the expansion of exchanges and cooperation between the IOC and China, and the China-Spain friendship, which we will never forget."

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