Liu keeps advertisers' support after exit

SHANGHAI Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:54am EDT

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang's exit from the Beijing Games on Monday will not lead to the loss of his biggest sponsorship deals, his corporate sponsors said.

A confident performer who is often in front of the cameras, Liu's face is everywhere in China.

He appears on advertisements for products from soft drinks to shoes, and Visa Inc (V.N) sponsors credit cards carrying images of him from the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he captured China's first gold for men's track with a win in the 110 meter hurdles.

Other sponsors include Nike Inc (NKE.N), Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and General Motors Corp's (GM.N) luxury Cadillac brand, as well as domestic dairy brand Yili (600887.SS) and a foundation run by one of China's biggest cigarette manufacturers, Baisha.

"We will continue to support Liu Xiang," said Coca-Cola China spokeswoman Brenda Lee.

"Coca-Cola's sponsorship relationship with Liu will not be affected. We wish him a speedy recovery."

Liu stunned the spectators in Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, who came to cheer on China's best hope for a track gold medal, when he limped off the field grimacing in pain after a false start in the first-round hurdles heat.

Forbes, which ranked Liu second behind NBA player Yao Ming, also from Shanghai, on its rich list of Chinese entertainers, estimated his income at $23.8 million in 2007.

"We will firmly stand by Liu Xiang and look forward to seeing him come back to the field," said Wang Zhentao, president of Chinese shoe maker Aokang, which hired Liu as a "special image ambassador".

"Aokang will renew its 2009 contract with Liu and the cooperation between Aokang and Liu Xiang will continue," Wang added in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.

Bank of Communications (601328.SS) (3328.HK), China's fifth-largest bank, and HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L) (0005.HK), which in partnership with Visa have jointly issued more than 1 million special credit cards since 2006 carrying Liu's image, also showed their support.

"The Liu Xiang card will certainly continue to be issued despite his withdrawal from the Olympics today," said Sheng Hua, a director at the bank's credit card centre.

Visa's Beijing office said in a statement to Reuters: "He will always remain a great Chinese icon and a friend of Visa."

(Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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