Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 18 News List

China sees Asian Games as Beijing warmup


China, out to defend its status as Asia's sporting superpower at next month's Asian Games, is also using the competition to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Led by Olympic gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang (劉翔), China will send 647 athletes -- slightly more than the 628 rival Japan is sending -- to the Dec. 1-15 competition in Doha, Qatar. High on the agenda is avenging a bitter loss in basketball four years ago.

But besides topping the medal table again, as it has every Asian Games starting from 1982, China is also focused on identifying potential medal winners for the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

"It's the last time that China's Olympic Committee will dispatch such a large sports delegation before the 2008 Olympics," Duan Shijie, vice president of the All-China Sports Federation, told a news conference to announce details of the team.

"It is important for the athletes and coaches to gain experience for the Beijing Olympics," Duan said, adding China will compete in 37 of 39 events on Doha. "We hope these games can give our youngsters a test and give them a taste of what it will be like in the Olympics."

The Chinese sports machine, which took 32 golds to 36 for the top-ranked US at the Athens Games in 2004, is under pressure from a sports-crazy, nationalistic public to top the medals table in Beijing. Sports officials and coaches have been trying to tap down expectations to reduce pressure on the athletes and guard against popular disappointment.

Officials declined to say how many medals China would win.

"It is hard to predict how many gold medals our athletes will win at Doha, but we will try our best to make sure we are at the top," Xiao Tian, a deputy chef de mission of the Chinese Sports Delegation, was quoted yesterday as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

China won 150 gold medals four years ago in Busan, South Korea, to easily top the medal table. But China was stunned when the host nation erased a seven-point deficit in the last 32.5 seconds of regulation time and went on to win the men's basketball gold in overtime.

This time China expects to win, although NBA star Yao Ming (姚明)of the Houston Rockets will not be competing. Instead China will be led by former NBA player Wang Zhizhi and rising teenage star Yi Jianlian.

The 19-year-old Yi has averaged nearly 26 points a game this season for the Guangdong Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.

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