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Hoogenband: the champion now retires
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21:46, August 14, 2008

Before Pieter van den Hoogenband started his race, he knew he was not likely to win.

The Dutchman came to Beijing as the defending Olympic champion in his signature race the 100-meter freestyle. He did his best to swim in 47.75 seconds, but only finished the fifth.

French sprinter Alain Bernard won with a time of 47.21 seconds, while world record holder Australian Eamon Sullivan took the silver in 47.32. American Jason Lezak shared the bronze with Brazilian Cesar Filho Cielo.

"It's been a very long time, my fourth Olympics, my fourth final in the 100m free. It's impossible for me to go any further," said Hoogenband.

"This is the end of my career," he said, "I can't keep up with the younger guys."

Hoogenband won the blue-ribbon race twice in the Sydney and Athens Games. In Beijing, he pulled out of the 200-meter free to focus himself on a third consecutive title in the two-lap event.

But after the Wednesday's semifinals, which saw the world record changing hands between Sullivan and Bernard, Hoogenband knew the gold would elude him.

The Dutchman's world record of 47.84 seconds stood for eight years before it was blasted by the "younger generation" in 2008.

Bernard downed the record twice in two days at the European Championships in March, in which Hoogenband pulled out due to fever and indigestion. In Beijing, the record was shattered three times in the Sullivan-Bernard duel and now down at 47.05 seconds.

"This is a new period of time (in swimming), a whole new level, new swimsuits and a new generation. It's unbelievable," Hoogenband said after the semifinal.

The flying Dutchman can't fly the highest any more, and he found ways to accommodate the change. After emerging from the water, Hoogenband patted Bernard on the shoulder and congratulated his successor.

"I know what Bernard is going through. I've won twice, the most prestigious event. I'm happy I've done that," he said.

Hoogenband retires with three Olympic golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Despite a haul of eight silver and two bronzes in the world championships, he has never won a gold.

Looking back at his swimming career, Hoogenband savored the competitions with Olympic greats like Russian Alexander Popov and Australian Ian Thorpe.

"I was inspired by Matt Biondi (an American multiple-medallist), I remember watching him when I was 10 years old in Seoul," he said.

"When I was beaten by Alexander Popov, he became my biggest rival and favorite competition. Of course my battles with Ian Thorpe were memorable," he said.

After retirement, he may have more time for his wife Minouche and his one-year-old daughter Daphne. Enditem

Source: Xinhua

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