BEIJING (AFP): China has announced a team of 396 athletes for the London Olympics, a far smaller delegation than four years ago when it topped the gold medal table on home soil.
The team, which includes 29 gold medallists from the Beijing Games, will be seeking to maintain China’s status as an Olympic powerhouse.
But Sports Minister Liu Peng sought at an event in Beijing on Tuesday, when the team for London was announced, to keep a lid on soaring expectations, encouraging the athletes without making any bold predictions.
“The athletes from around the world have worked very hard for the Games and they are so eager to make a breakthrough and win medals, so the competitions will be hotly contested,” he said, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
“The Chinese athletes must get fully prepared and ready to face the challenges. We have to fight for each gold.”
China topped the medals table with 51 golds four years ago, when it sent a record-breaking 639 athletes to compete in the Games.
Thirty-eight of the hosts’ 51 gold medals came in table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, gymnastics and weightlifting, the six Olympic sports China has long dominated.
But in London, China will look to break through in what are considered more prestigious Olympic sports, including swimming and track and field.
Huge expectations will fall on Sun Yang, who is tipped to become China’s first Olympic male swimming champion.
Sun, who smashed Grant Hackett’s decade-old 1,500m world record last year, ranks number one in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m.
Tennis superstar Li Na, who won China’s first Grand Slam title at last year’s French Open, will also be in London.
One of the other high-profile athletes going to London is 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, who famously won China’s first track gold medal in Athens but then sensationally pulled out of the first heat in Beijing with an Achilles injury.
Liu Peng also issued a drugs warning to Chinese athletes, who will compete in 23 of the 26 Olympic sports.
“We must adopt a zero tolerance policy against doping and those offenders will be punished without mercy,” said Liu.
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