China is sending a record 133-member delegation to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in a quest for its first winter gold medal.
The greatest show on snow opens in the Utah capital in the western United States on February 8. Nearly 2,500 athletes from up to 80 countries and regions will gather for the biggest spectacle since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Chinese athletes will take part in 38 events in seven sports, including short-track speed skating, speed skating, figure skating, aerial freestyle skiing, the biathlon, cross-country skiing and women's ice hockey.
There will be 71 athletes from China if, as expected, the two speed skaters competing in the Netherlands qualify for the Olympics.
China's athletes are poised to end the country's gold drought after a series of near-misses in previous Winter Games.
Li Furong, vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said: "Our strength in winter sports has seen a giant leap forward in effort from generation to generation.
"We are well-prepared to win gold."
China has taken part in six Winter Games since 1980 and won its first Winter Olympic medal in 1992.
The best result came from the 1998 Nagano games in Japan four years ago as China finished with six silvers and two bronzes.
Heavy expectations weigh on the delegation this time as the precious gold is likely to come from short-track speed skating, figure skating and aerial free-style skiing.
Delegation chief Xiao Tian said: "We have won several world titles on those sports in many major international competitions."
"I hope they can take the chance," he added.
Short-track speed skater Yang Yang (A) won 11 world titles and set two world records last year and heads a cream of gold favorites.
Combined with close colleagues Yang Yang (S), Wang Chunlun and Sun Dandan, she hopes to improve upon their five silver-winning performances at the last Winter Olympics.
Hopes are also pinned on the pairing of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo - twice runners-up in the figure-skating World Championships - and skier Xu Nannan, who won a silver medal in the last winter Games.
(China Daily January 9, 2002)