- Title: CHINA: OLYMPICS - China eyeing to revive medal glory at London Games
- Date: 15th May 2012
- Summary: YOUNG GYMNASTS TRAINING YOUNG GYMNAST SWINGING ON RINGS IN FRONT OF CHINESE NATIONAL FLAG
- Embargoed: 30th May 2012 13:00
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVADR2YQHDNNU63QOO3FHQO2YMPU
- Story Text: When Chinese athletes swept to the top of the gold medal table during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the feat was accompanied by a wave of national pride, the culmination of China's "100 year dream" to host the world's most prestigious sports event.
Whether China can repeat that feat at this year's London Games will surely be watched closely by all. But cooler heads may prevail at home if that success is not repeated as China has been buoyed by the country's other achievements since hosting the Games, such as its bounding economy.
The Chinese national weightlifting team have been preparing for this year's Games under an intense schedule of up to six hours training everyday at its base in Beijing.
In 2008, they won eight gold medals and one silver medal.
Eyeing this summer, Chen Wenbin, head coach of the Chinese weightlifting team, said his team are aiming high.
"We are very much looking forward to the London Olympics. We did well in Beijing Games and the Chinese people expect us to perform better. We will do our best to prepare, focus on details and go all out to compete at our best level then. I think no matter how many gold medals we can finally win, Chinese people will understand. But we will fight for whatever we can achieve in London," he said.
The simmering debate over the importance of the pursuit of medals began to heat up after the Beijing Games ended in success.
There appeared to be acknowledgement the country lacks a broad-based sports culture and that Olympic medals are generally won by a minority of government-supported athletes, raising questions over whether it can become a sports power, experts have said.
Critics aside, China has not slackened off in its Olympics medals quest. Nor has the state even begun to back off from its involvement in producing national winners.
At the state-run Shichahai sports school, located in central Beijing not far from the top leadership compound at Zhongnanhai, the government begins training young athletes from as young as 6.
Dubbed "the cradle of world champions" in a gold-embossed stone plinth outside one of its entrances, the school has raised 39 world champions and seven Olympic ones. Large Chinese flags dominate the austere gyms and other training rooms.
Slogans reminiscent of the heyday of Chinese communism pasted around the campus exhort athletes not to forget that "All training is for competition" and "There are no heroic individuals, only heroic groups".
Ten-year-old table tennis player Yu Zhengyang is still too young to understand the significance of winning titles for his country.
"(Becoming a world champion) can be famous, make a lot of money and get interviewed. Not many people interview me now. The world's champion will be interviewed by more people," he said.
While the national gymnastic team was perfecting somersault skills at the training hall in General Administration of Sport, young gymnasts have began dreaming of winning big.
Li Xiaopeng, four-time Olympic gymnastic gold medalist who holds another 12 world titles, spoke highly of the country's top-down sports system from which, he said, had largely benefited his career to become the most decorated Chinese gymnast.
"I think the existing system of Chinese national sports teams has been proved successful for long enough. As you can see, there are so many emerging Olympic and world champions every year. This shows the Chinese sports system is a very successful channel," said the 30-year-old, who is now a board member of a sports agent company.
Likewise getting the best out of the system is former NBA superstar Yao Ming, who has been established as the banner for Chinese sport, encouraging the country's Olympic basketball team while supervising the training sessions.
But Chinese sports officials are keen to temper expectations on success in London.
China is no longer the host country, and there will be many new and somewhat untested faces competing in London, officials said, citing table tennis champions Wang Nan and Zhang Yining among those who have now retired.
Yan Qiang, chief sports editor of NetEase media group, said any sporting achievements may help China boost its national profile.
"Achieving success in the international competitions is definitely a wonderful way of showing patriotism and a great form of patriotism itself. Politically, it must be valued and used. I believe the sports nationalism will exist forever," he said.
Perhaps ironically, the official discussion of China's medal hopes in London echoes that in the run up to Beijing - when officials routinely would play down the country's prospects and play up its challenges.
By the time the Games closed on Aug. 24 2008, China had earned 51 golds, leapfrogging the United States' 36 golds and topping the medals table for the first time.
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