China aiming for at least 20 golds in Athens from record size team
Tuesday July 20, 09:17 PM

BEIJING (AFP) - China named a 407-strong squad for the Olympics with the aim of securing at least 20 golds, but there was no room for world badminton champion Xia Xuanze or double Olympic diving winner Li Na.

"I'm not going to make a prediction about the number of gold medals China will get in Athens," said Li Furong, vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee.

"Getting 28 gold medals, as we did in Sydney, is pretty hard. I'd say if we get 20 gold medals, that would be quite good."

In Sydney four years ago, China finished third in the medals table behind traditional powerhouses the United States and Russia.

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China's squad for Athens is its biggest ever Olympic delegation with women outnumbering men 269 to 138, competing in 26 sports -- more than ever before.

Li said the United States and Russia should again be the dominant nations while China will be jostling for position among a second tier of countries that also includes Australia, France, Germany and South Korea.

"Our target is to ensure our leading position in the second group," he said.

While China has medal opportunities in the blue-riband events on the track and in the pool, its strength lies elsewhere -- traditionally on the ping pong tables, the badminton courts and the diving platforms.

China's paddlers will be anchored by Zhang Yining and Wang Nan, the world's number one and two ranked women respectively, and world number one Ma Lin on the men's side.

China is also one of the world's top badminton nations and they are expected to challenge for podium places in Athens.

But Xia Xuanze, who has had niggling injury problems, will not be on the plane.

Neither will Li Na, who snared two of China's five diving golds in the Sydney Olympics. Diving authorities refused to say why she had been dropped.

Tian Liang will lead the divers, and predicted tougher competition this year, particularly from the Canadians.

"I still believe in myself," said Tian, who unexpectedly lost out to Alexandre Despatie of Canada in last year's platform at the world championships in Barcelona.

In athletics, China has serious medal opportunities with 110m hurdler Liu Xiang and distance runner Sun Yingjie, while Qi Hui will be be striving to regain the world 200m breaststroke record she lost earlier this month.

"What we fear most is that they will make mistakes. Never make mistakes in the Olympics. Let your rivals make mistakes," said athletics head coach Feng Shuyong.

"To tell you the truth, I don't like to talk about targets. I just want them to perform their best in Athens."

China should also pick up medals in the fencing, with world sabre champion Tan Xue in their squad, and the weightlifting, where China's women are dominant and have every chance of setting new world records.

"In our potential medal events like table tennis, diving and badminton, either Australia or South Korea can pose serious threats to us," warned Li, himself a former triple world table tennis silver medalist.

"And we cannot afford to any mistakes in gymnastics, shooting and fencing before our Russian rivals."

China's oldest athlete is 43-year-old sharpshooter Wang Yifu, who will compete in his sixth Olympic Games, while 14-year-old swimmer Zhang Tianyi is the youngest.