Popov Feted at Retirement Party; Thorpe, Inky Among the Guests

By Oene Rusticus

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland, January 30. LAST month, when the French sports newspaper L'Equipe proclaimed that Russian sprinting great Alex Popov was retiring, the Czar denied the report, saying he had nothing to say on that topic.

It turns out, like Frank Sinatra, Popov wanted to do the deed his way. And, not surprisingly, his way turned out to be a classy way.

This evening there was a formal dinner to honor the Russian superstar upon his retirement. Among the guests: Australia's Ian Thorpe, Holland's Inge De Bruijn and Prince Albert of Monaco. Michael Phelps was also invited, but he remained at home in Michigan, pleading illness.

The dinner was part of a larger event, organized by one of Popov's sponsors (and employer), the Swiss watchmaker Omega, which was built around the Bobsled World Cup competition. Popov and Thorpe took part in a celebrity bobsled race and Thorpe pronounced the 95 mph ride down an icy Swiss slope "amazing."

"You start off and you think you are going to slow down, but it just gets faster and faster," he said.

Amazing or not, Thorpe said that despite his affinity for water, he has no intention of switching to a sport based on the frozen version of that substance.

Actually, Thorpe has yet to announce whether or not he will compete in this summer's swimming World Championships, wherever they may be held. He is, however, headed to Jacksonville, Florida, where he has been invited to see next Sunday's Super Bowl football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, before returning to Sydney.

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