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Pregnant Manaudou ends colorful career for good

PARIS (Reuters) - Frenchwoman Laure Manaudou, the 2004 Olympic 400 meters freestyle champion, announced on Wednesday she had retired from swimming and drawn the curtain on a colorful career.

"I quit. I took the decision a long time ago," the 26-year-old Manaudou, who added she is expecting a second child, told the French television channel Canal Plus.

"I am three months pregnant. I have stopped swimming for two months and I'm fine with it. I want to meet new people. I will not come back this time."

Manaudou won the 400 freestyle gold medal at the age of 17 in Athens and followed up with three world titles in 2005 and 2007.

However, she seemed a lost woman at the 2008 Beijing Games after a lackluster campaign.

"She is in a dangerous personal situation. She is broken inside. We have to be careful that she does not fall into a serious depression," her then coach Lionel Horter said.

Manaudou had everything she wished for at 17 but it had come too soon after leaving her parents three years earlier to be trained by Philippe Lucas, who promised she would claim an Olympic gold medal.

Lucas, an aloof character known for his strictness, made Manaudou swim over 15 kms a day. Between June, 2004 and April, 2008, she remained unbeaten over the 400 meters freestyle, winning 23 finals in succession.

Things, however, had already started to go wrong for the Frenchwoman.

She escaped to train in Italy with her then boyfriend Luca Marin, who would later date her arch-rival Federica Pellegrini.

Manaudou's complicated personal life came under further scrutiny when naked pictures of her were leaked on the internet a year before the Beijing Games.

She returned to France to be coached by her brother Nicolas, before moving to Mulhouse, eastern France, to prepare for the Olympics, where she finished last in the 400 meters freestyle final and seventh in the 100 meters backstroke final.

At the Water Cube, Manaudou would go through the mixed zone, where athletes mingle with reporters, with a towel over her head.

"I'm not even sure it's worth going on. I don't even want to swim," she said at the time with tears in her eyes.

Manaudou said she put her career on hold in January, 2009, and announced she quit for good in September that year.

She was then pregnant with her daughter Manon and living in Auburn, Alabama, with Frederick Bousquet, the 2009 50 meters freestyle world silver medalist.

She lived a quiet life far from France and, spurred by Bousquet, she eventually made her comeback official in June 2011, qualifying for last year's Olympics.

Manaudou did not shine in London but at least, she was happy.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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