Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Shooting for gold

Taiwan has never won a gold medal at an Olympics, but hopes are high this year that its athletes can make history

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES

As the clock ticks down to the opening of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games on Aug. 13, anticipation will be rising for the home team to pull off something that no Taiwanese athlete has managed before, namely bring home a gold medal.

There have been plenty of medals in the past -- silvers in weightlifting and taekwondo in Sydney and a silver in table tennis in Atlanta, to list a few -- but gold has remained out of reach throughout Taiwan's Olympic history and this year, it's hoped, will be the year to rectify the situation.

"There's no reason a Taiwanese athlete can't get a gold medal. We have great athletes, but it really boils down to their performance on the day of competition," said Steven Chen (陳士魁), deputy secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee.

It might help this year that an unprecedentedly large team will be representing Taiwan at the Games, with 88 athletes competing in 14 events.

Part of the reason this year's Olympic team is so large is the inclusion of the baseball and softball teams, which between them account for 39 of the athletes and who carry on their shoulders much of Taiwan's high hopes for glory. Taiwan's baseball and softball teams are among the world's best, but when up against Cuba, the US, Japan and other powerhouses it's anyone's guess before the Games as to who will walk away the victors, Chen said.

As a measure of how important the baseball team is to this year's mission for gold, three of its players will carry the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee flag onto the field at the opening ceremony leading the team, after Tajikistan's team and before Tanzania's. An agreement between the ROC government and the International Olympic Committee signed in 1981 stipulated that Taiwan would participate under the title Chinese Taipei, but that in the opening ceremony the team would appear in Taiwan's alphabetical position. Local spellings of country's titles are used to determine the alphabetical lineup of national teams.

But baseball and softball are not the only events where Taiwan has high expectations of a strong finish. The other strong hopes for gold this year are in Taekwondo, weightlifting, archery and shooting.

Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎), an internationally top-ranked taekwondo athlete stands a good chance, as does Huang Shih-chun (黃世均) in the ladies weightlifting.

In other major events, however, like the track- and-field competitions, Taiwan won't even be sending competitors.

"There isn't enough training for running and the other popular events, so there just aren't any good athletes in those categories," Chen said.

He cited the lack of appropriate locations to train athletes in endurance events, saying Taiwan's current Olympic training ground in Tsuoying, Kaohsiung County, will perhaps be supplemented in the future by a high-altitude training site and a seaside one to provide more targeted fitness regimens for specific events.

China's Olympic track-and-field and endurance sport athletes, for example, train at over 2,600m on the Tibetan plateau, which gives them a significant advantage when competing at sea-level stadia in Athens.

But even if Taiwan's training facilities aren't ideal, Chen insists that this time the country's athletes won't be turning to performance-enhancing substances to compensate for any shortcomings, unlike at Sydney where one of Chinese Taipei's weightlifters gained the dubious distinction of being the first athlete ejected from that year's Games because of steroid use.

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