USA set to defend Olympic medal supremacy in Beijing

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2008 (AFP) – Americans will attempt to lead the overall medal table for the fourth Summer Olympics in a row next month in Beijing, but hosts China and Russia will challenge for supremacy in golds and total medals. US teams had the greatest medal haul for a record fourth Games in a row at Los Angeles in 1932.

While Soviet Union talent topped the table eight times from 1956 to 1992, it never equalled that mark.

US squads have led the medal charts at Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and Athens four years ago. But this time, the Chinese are going for the medal crown as hosts and with a formidable squad backed by throngs of cheering supporters.

“Russia, China and the US are vying with the most legitimate shot at the top medal count at the Olympics,” said Steve Roush, chief of sport performance for the US Olympic Committee (USOC).

“This is going to be a highly competitive field. It has created an excitement around these Olympics that has been missing for a while.”

In 2004, Americans claimed 102 medals, 36 of them gold. Russians took 92 overall, 27 gold, while China had 63 overall but most, 32, were gold.

China’s challenge figures to be formidable. Could the US team hit the wall?

“Chin