Li Ning Named First Chinese Rep To WFP

Retired Olympic champion gymnast Li Ning has been named the first Chinese anti-hunger ambassador for the U.N. World Food Program.

Li, 44, became one of China's most famous athletes after taking three gold medals, two silvers and a bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He mesmerized Olympic viewers last year when he ran a victory lap around Beijing's National Stadium's upper rim while suspended by cables before lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Games.

As the WFP's ambassador, Li will travel to Bangladesh later this year to distribute funds from China and learn more about the local situation, Nan Xu a spokeswoman for the program in Beijing, told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Li's Hong Kong-listed sportswear company dominated China's market for much of the 1990s, though it's been displaced by Nike and Adidas in recent years. The company is now focused on recapturing market share at home while trying to go global.

The appointment celebrated China's 30 years of cooperation with the World Food Program, which has donated more than US$1 billion worth of food products to 30 million people in every province and autonomous region in mainland China, according to a report released by the U.N.

China became a donor in 2005 and has since then donated US$33 million to WFP projects around the world, the report said.

Past WFP ambassadors include U.S. actress Drew Barrymore, Italian film star Maria Grazia Cucinotta and former Ghanian President John Kufuor.