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Host gymnasts feel Olympic heat, pressure
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For Chinese Olympic gymnasts who are determined to erase painful memories of Athens failure, to compete on home soil this summer is for sure an honor but adding extra pressure as well.

Chinese head coach Huang Yubin admitted the home advantage but said the whole team was struggling with home expectation and Olympic mania over media and everywhere.

"It's definitely a big advantage to compete at home. We have the home support, which will be fantastic. But the expectation is also high, maybe too high for us," said Huang.

"You can imagine the pressure when 1.3 billion people are watching you. We're nervous because we know we have to succeed and failure is unacceptable."

He said the Chinese gymnasts were both motivated and stressed pending the Beijing Games Gymnastics competition, which will start on August 9th, the next day after the opening ceremony.

"Everybody knows that pressure is on us because we are supposed to win and win big considering our world championships success in 2006 and 2007, especially in this Olympics following the Athens defeat four years ago.

"In 2004, we pocketed only one gold medal, which is not that bad compared to some others, but it's still described as 'Athens waterloo' in China and our performance was considered a complete failure.

"Of course it's the very impetus for us to have a strong comeback in Beijing but the pressure is tremendous," said the 50-year-old.

The Chinese won their first-ever team gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 but failed to build on the achievement in Athens, losing to arch-rivals Japan.

They bounced back with terrific results in the past two championships, pocketing five gold medals in Stuttgart last year and a record eight the previous year in Arhus including the most coveted team titles.

Gymnastic legend Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of ten (under the old scoring system) in an Olympics, has predicted a China medal haul in Beijing.

"The Chinese team is very very good," she said earlier. "In men's competition, I don't think any other team could be better than them."

"Women's competition will be very close, but it's a great advantage to have Olympics in your country.

"It would be difficult for everybody else to get a hand on the medals," she added.

The Chinese Gymnastics Association has yet to reveal its twelve-strong Olympic lineup, including six men and six women, but Yang Wei will be the last to ignore.

The best all-around men's gymnast in Stuttgart and Arhus has seven world titles and was part of the men's team that won at the Sydney Games.

Internationally, the Japanese men, who prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s, are seeking to retain their Olympic team gold and the United States women are strong contenders to win plenty of hardward.

Four years ago, Carly Patterson of the U.S. became the darling of the gymnastics world by winning the all-around gold medal.

Now the torch could be passed to 16-year-old Shawn Johnson, the reigning world all-around champion, or Nastia Liukin, 18, who harvested nine world titles in her three championships.

But the Chinese women, spearheaded by multi-world champion Cheng Fei, are confident to outperform the reigning world champions as they did in Arhus.

"I can't guarantee a win but I can say we are as good as them (the U.S.) on the four apparatus, even better on some," said Chinese women's coach Lu Shanzhen at the Olympic trials in May.

In the men's field, the U.S, as well as world bronze medallist Germany, is another force to be reckoned with 2004 Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm recovering from a hand injury though.

Traditional powerhouse Romania, who is the biggest winner in Athens thanks to women's strong performance but has suffered apparent decline recently, is hoping for a surprise comeback in Beijing.

(Xinhua News Agency July 23, 2008)

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