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Chinese women's basketball hope to return to Olympic podium
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Despite a disappointing ninth place finish at the Athens Olympics four yeas ago, the host Chinese women's basketball team still hopes to return to the podium at the Beijing Olympics.

Since women's basketball was admitted to the Olympics in 1976, the Chinese team took bronze in 1984 and silver in 1992. From then on, the ninth place, also in 1996, was the best result over the past Olympic Games.

The team set their eyes on a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, but unfortunately, the dream was broken when the Chinese girls finished only fifth in the preliminary round at 1-4, losing to defending champion the United States, Spain, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and only beating South Korea in the group competition.

After the Athens slump, former coach Gong Luming was replaced by Tom Maher, who had coached New Zealand at the Athens 2004 and led Australia to take a bronze at the 1996 Olympics and a silver at the 2000 Olympics.

Maher kept veterans Miao Lijie, Chen Na and Sui Feifei on the Chinese roster, but the team suffered another blow in the 2006 World Championship in Brazil where Maher's team finished 12th in his first international major tournament as the Chinese coach.

"The team had injury problems," Maher told reporters. "Feifei could only play with limited time for her leg injury, and she was not in her right shape. Her replacement Ren Lei also suffers an injury in her left knee."

Despite the Brazil failure, Maher was backed by Li Yuanwei, executive vice-president of the CBA. "The team has been improving since Maher's coming, at least in team's defense," said Li Yuanwei.

After that, Maher led the Chinese women to take the title of the Asian Games in December, and beat a second-string Australian squad in the preliminary round and the United States in the final of the Good-Lucky Beijing basketball tournament in April this year.

China will play the United State, Spain, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Mali in the opening round.

"The team should qualify for the quarterfinals at least but the goal will be a very tough task," said Li, who also serves as the director of the Chinese women.

China has to beat Spain, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Mali to qualify for the quarterfinals as second finisher in Group B.

Once reaching the semifinals, the Chinese women may have to face Russia or Australia, over whom China has little hope to win.

(Xinhua News Agency July 20, 2008)

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