China set to defend gold title
BEIJING -- China is sending a team of nearly 400 athletes to defend its title as the top gold medal winner when the Olympic Games start in London in just more than two weeks.
After topping the medal table with 51 golds four years ago at home, China will be looking to hold off traditional powerhouse the United States, which finished with 36 golds in Beijing and edged China in overall medals 110 to 100.
State media and Chinese sports officials are cautious about forecasting China's prospects in London, but do not expect a repeat of the dominating performance it had on home ground.
They are projecting at least 35 and possibly 40 gold medals and that China should finish in the top three.
"If a country wins more than 40 golds, it must be No. 1," Jiang Xiaoyu, a former vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper.
At a rally for the delegation on Tuesday, Sports Minister Liu Peng asked the 396 athletes to inspire their people's patriotism with excellent achievements. Including officials, China will send 621 people to London.
Liu warned against any complacency.
"We must overestimate the difficulties, the challenges and our competitors, be thoroughly prepared and do everything we can think of to provide more assurance for our final victory," said Liu, who will lead a team that includes 29 gold medalists from Beijing.
China expects to win most of its golds from the six sports where it normally dominates -- table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, gymnastics and weightlifting.
Those sports accounted for 36 of the 51 gold medals China won in Beijing.
In table tennis, badminton and diving, Chinese athletes are expected to compete against each other for golds. China also could sweep golds in diving and table tennis.
Veteran diver Wu Minxia is expected to shine on the 3-meter springboard, where she is likely to win her first Olympic individual title after being overshadowed by star diver Guo Jingjing in both Beijing and Athens in 2004. Other prominent athletes include table tennis player Zhang Jike, who is seeking his first Olympic singles gold, and badminton player Lin Dan, who is defending his Olympic title.
China also is hoping to see breakthroughs in swimming and athletics.
Swimmer Sun Yang, who has the world's best time in the 1,500-meter freestyle, is aiming to become the country's first male swimmer to win an Olympic gold.
Hurdler Liu Xiang, the first Chinese man to win an Olympic athletics gold in Athens in 2004, will compete in London after shocking the home crowd in Beijing when he had to leave the track because of an injury.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press