US Olympic Committee leaders painted a surprisingly downcast picture for their team at the Beijing Games, saying on Thursday that China was the favorite to win the medal count and the US faces a steep climb to remain dominant.
"They'll ... spend more money in preparation of athletes, and they should clearly be favored to win the most medals and win the most gold," chairman Peter Ueberroth said of China, where the games start two years from this month.
The US has won the medal count in the last three Summer Olympics. In Athens, they reached their widely publicized goal of winning 100 medals.
In a teleconference devoted partly to 2008 and partly to doping issues, Ueberroth and chief executive Jim Scherr downplayed the quest for medals in China and emphasized the need for the US team to win fairly and without drug problems.
"We want to take a clean team to the games," Scherr said.
"If that means we win zero medals, that's fine. It's not how many medals we win, it's how we win those medals," he said.
There are several factors that point to some possible US slippage in Beijing, the greatest of which is China's intensive training for the first Olympics on its soil. Scherr trotted out a bunch of numbers, including the nearly 20,000 high-level athletes training at 195 sites in 31 provinces around China -- way more than the US can muster.
Meanwhile, other countries, such as Great Britain, Australia and many in Europe, are trying to move their way up the medals table, and to do so, they'll have to chip away at the US as well.
What Scherr didn't focus on was the fact that China finished with 63 medals in Athens two years ago, more than double its output in 1988, but still 40 fewer than the US. And at world championship events last year, China won 70 medals compared to 100 for the US.
Part of the pessimistic message was undoubtedly to temper expectations for a team that has dominated since the dismantling of the Soviet Union and its great Olympic machine. Part was probably to motivate US athletes and sports leaders.
Regardless, Scherr and Ueberroth didn't hold back.
"We used to say with great comfort that we put more resources into our teams than any other nation," Scherr said.
"We can no longer say that. We know other countries are putting more resources into it than we are. We have to redouble our efforts," he said.