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Isinbayeva seals rich Li Ning deal

RUSSIAN Olympic champion and pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva has agreed a multi million-dollar contract with China's largest sportswear retailer Li Ning.

The agreement, worth US$1.5 million annually for five years according to a person with knowledge of the offer, is significant because of the amount of money and the entry of a Chinese company into the athletics marketing world with a high-profile athlete.

"There is no athlete on the track circuit that earns that kind of money," said a person familiar with the negotiations.

That includes the base contract for Jamaican double sprint world record holder Usain Bolt, he said. "It is out of synch in regards to the track market."

Wang Shiyong of Li Ning's branding department said, however, that no deal had been finalized. "I cannot confirm it at this moment," he said.

"It is under negotiation. We will announce it later when we get to an agreement."

Isinbayeva's agent, Daniel Wessfeldt, said that he could not "comment at this point."

Bonuses for world records, world and Olympic championships could add to Isinbayeva's earnings, experts said.

Isinbayeva, the IAAF female athlete of the year, has been under contract to Adidas, the world's second-largest sports goods maker.

The world record holder is set to begin her indoor season this weekend at Donetsk, Ukraine, which would be her first opportunity to wear her new company's attire at a meet.

Li Ning was founded by the 1984 Olympic triple gymnastics gold medalist who last August lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games. It has around 10 percent of the Chinese market.

While Isinbayeva is its first high-profile signee, the firm has deals with National Basketball Association players Shaquille O'Neal of the Phoenix Suns and Baron Davis of the Los Angeles Clippers, according to O'Neal's NBA biography and a Li Ning news release about Davis.


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