Franzi to Retire After Athens

By Phillip Whitten

BERLIN, Nov 3. GERMANY'S most popular athlete, Franziska van Almsick, said she plans to retire after next year's Olympic Games in Athens.

Her comments were contained in an interview published in yesterday's edition of Das Bild am Sonntag.

"I'm thinking that my career will end after the Olympics," the 25-year-old world record-holder said. "Winning gold and retiring, that would be nice."

Van Almsick has never won Olympic gold.

At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, van Almsick was out-touched by American Nicole Haislett in the 200m free, 1:57.90 to 1:58.00. The 14 year-old German had led all the way, but the experienced American hitched a ride on van Almsick's wake, as both women swam next to the lane lines. In a final burst, Haislett overtook her less experienced rival for the gold.

Van Almsick first set the world record in the 200m free at the 1994 World Championships in Rome after a bizarre sequence of events. After qualifying ninth in prelims, she was placed in the final when a teammate (who had qualified eighth) "volunteered" to scratch. Van Almsick took advantage of her good fortune by setting the world record. After several frustrating years, the popular "Franzi" staged a remarkable comeback at the 2002 European Championships in Berlin, winning five gold medals and breaking her own eight year-old world record for the 200 free.

"I'm ever so excited about the Olympics," said Franzi. "[Winning Olympic gold] is my last big dream and this is my last chance."