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Phelps back in China

MICHAEL Phelps is heading back to the city where he made Olympic history. The record-breaking swimmer left for Beijing, a trip tied to his new sponsorship deal with the automaker Mazda that is billed as China's largest ever for a foreign celebrity.

Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing, breaking Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record for most wins at a single Olympics. He also holds the record for most career golds with 14, a total he hopes to add to at the 2012 London Games.

"The guy is a folk hero in Chinese mainland," said Chris Fenton, general manager of DMG North America, which brokered the deal between Phelps and FAW Mazda.

"Even though he is not Chinese, ... it was such an incredible story, such an incredible feat, that the Chinese, like the rest of the world, saw him as a wonder."

While specific financial terms were not released, Phelps will receive "well into the seven figures per year" to exclusively endorse the new Mazda 6 model in a Chinese advertising campaign that includes television commercials, billboards, newspaper and magazine ads, along with personal appearances.

"The people of China have been very supportive of me and my efforts to help promote swimming," Phelps said in a statement. "I am excited to begin 2009 with my first return trip to Beijing since the games."

Phelps will be in Beijing through Thursday. Among the stops on his itinerary: The Water Cube, where he won his eight gold medals, seven of them with world-record times.

The swimmer has cashed in on his notoriety since the games, hosting US comedy show "Saturday Night Live," working the talk-show circuit and releasing a new book.


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