SHANGHAI (AFP) - China's former 100m freestyle world champion and swimming pin-up Ning Zetao announced his retirement from the sport on Wednesday (March 6), his 26th birthday.
A fan favourite in the country because of his ability and looks, he won the 100m free world title in 2015 and was a four-time gold medallist at the Asian Games a year earlier.
But his career has been on the slide since and he hangs up his trunks with the reputation of a talent never fulfilled.
Ning, who served a one-year suspension after testing positive for clenbuterol in 2011, announced his retirement on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.
"Don't be afraid of the past and the future! Say good bye to the swimming pool and blue water and restart my own new life," he wrote.
"Thank you, my dear fans! I wish you all the best."
He added in English: "The way to success is never easy, push yourself and DO NOT SETTLE."
After his feat at the world championships the colourful Ning looked set to star at the Olympics.
But he bombed out at Rio 2016, where he failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle final.
In February 2017 he was thrown out of the China team for "violating the rules" over sponsorship.
He was unable to defend his world title later that year after failing to qualify for the showpiece, citing an abdominal injury.