Architect of China's Beijing triumph retires

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's deputy sports minister Cui Dalin, the architect of the medal table-topping triumph at the Beijing Olympics, has retired at the age of 60, state media reported Wednesday.

Cui was in charge of competitive sports in the state system for the four years running up to what he described as "an historic breakthrough" at the 2008 Olympics, where Chinese athletes won 51 golds and 100 medals in all.

A dour chain-smoker with a mop of dyed hair carefully arranged over his craggy features, Cui spent the years leading up to the Beijing Games downplaying China's chances of outperforming the traditional Olympic powerhouses.

"America and Russia are stronger, we are far behind, especially in athletics, swimming and water sports," he said in a typically mordant prediction a year before the Beijing Games.

Although in many ways the archetypal Communist Party official -- he was nicknamed "Mr State System" -- Cui did allow the recruitment of foreign coaches and the use of sports psychologists to help in the preparations for the Beijing Games.

Cui started his 40-year career in sports administration after being sent to the country in the 1960s along with millions of other young Chinese during the Cultural Revolution.

Cui also promoted the career of controversial Liaoning coach Ma Junren, whose "Ma's family army" of middle and long-distance runners sparked suspicion of doping when they came from nowhere to shatter a series of world records.

Ma said his athletes used only traditional Chinese tonics, but he and six of his runners were dropped from the China team for the 2000 Olympics after blood tests showed abnormal results.

After the 2008 Olympic triumph, Cui turned his attentions to improving China's prowess in soccer, basketball, athletics and swimming.

Cui's retirement was confirmed Wednesday in an official communique released by state news agency Xinhua, his hopes of ending his career as CFA chairman seemingly ended by the scandal.

(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen, editing by Peter Rutherford)