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Swimming

Phelps who? How about 'Flying Fish'

Despite eight golds, Michael Phelps struggles for name recognition in China. Despite eight golds, Michael Phelps struggles for name recognition in China. (Getty Images)
August 18, 2008
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BEIJING - Sorry, Michael Phelps, but it may take more than eight Olympic gold medals to make you a household name in China.

In a walking survey of a traditional Beijing hutong, a neighborhood made up of narrow streets with carved and painted roof beams, Phelps still lacked some name recognition yesterday, hours after winning his record eighth Olympic gold medal.

As Phelps got closer to No. 8, he got more live television coverage on China's state-run CCTV. But, like NBC, it devotes most of its coverage to its own athletes and their remarkable success. Likewise, Chinese sports papers have dedicated 90 percent of their space to Chinese athletes.

However, the biggest obstacle for Phelps is - well - the name.

When his family name is pronounced in Mandarin, it comes out something like: "Fei-er-pu-si." Even a perfect rendering by a native speaker can draw blank stares.

Instead of trying to pronounce Phelps' surname with a Chinese inflection, it turned out to be more effective to ask in Chinese about the "handsome American swimmer," or the "Fei Yu," which means "Flying Fish" and is a nickname Phelps has been given by several local sports newspapers.

"I think Phelps is becoming a big name here quickly, and a famous name is easier to remember even if it's foreign," said Shi Shijung, sitting on a stool outside a small fruit market in the Nanluoguxiang neighborhood. "I watched the race and saw him with his mother. They look like a good family." (AP)

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