China on brink of becoming dominant sporting power

BEIJING, July 28, 2008 (AFP) – China is on the brink of becoming the most dominant sporting power in the world, with expectations running high that they will bounce the United States from the top of the Olympic medal table. At Athens four years ago, China finished with 32 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals to place second behind the United States.

In the drive to beat that mark and satisfy nationalist pride, the host nation is expected to field almost 600 athletes in August — up from the 407 it sent to Greece.

While it has a realistic chance of achieving the feat, it is not likely to make waves in blue riband events such as athletics and swimming.

Rather, its hopes of upstaging the United States lie in scooping golds from sports where it is traditionally strong — table tennis, badminton, gymnastics and diving.

It will also be aiming to add to the tally in lower profile disciplines such as canoeing, boxing, beach volleyball and synchronized swimming.

Yet Deputy Sports Minister Cui Dalin has been keen to play down expectations of a medals avalanche.

“This is the first Olympics where our athletes are competing at home and they face a whole new competition environment and a whole series of dif