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Australia eyes third consecutive top-five finish
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Australia made a hit at home by finishing fourth at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and kept the glorious position in the medal table four years later in Athens. Now, the Aussies are looking forward to another top-five placing in Beijing.

"The fact we finished fourth at the last two Olympics means there is an expectation. We had top-five objectives at both those Games, and we still do," said John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee. And swimming is probably still the most prolific sport for Australia during the 29th Summer Olympic Games held from August 8 to 24.

As a country boasting more than 35,000 kilometers of coastline, Australia gives their people easy access to enjoying the fun of swimming, and is paid back with great success by numerous elite swimmers.

Australia had won a total of 52 Olympic gold medals in swimming and seven out of their 17 golds in Athens owed to their powerful swimmers.

Although the retirement of five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe two years ago was regarded as a big suffer for Australian swimming, the stars such as Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett and Grant Hackett still made their Olympic squad significantly dazzling.

Jones, 22, breezily defended her two world championship titles in the women's 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke last year in Melbourne and her world records in the two events seem too far to reach by all her opponents.

After smashing both the 50-meter and the 100-meter freestyle world records this March, Trickett became the world's fastest woman in the pool. The 23-year-old won three individual and two relay golds at the Melbourne Aquatic Championships last year and is expected to repeat the feat at her second Olympics in the futuristic "Water Cube".

As for captain Hackett, if he can overcome the blow of a disastrous defeat in Melbourne last year and recharge his battery full, winning a consecutively third Olympic title in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle is promising.

The water at Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park may mirror some other jubilant faces of the Aussies as they have qualified for all the 14 rowing events at the Olympic Games. Previously, only Germany made the same achievement at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the Olympic rowing history.

The Australian rowing team boasts six time Olympian James Tomkins, two World Championship crews and a women's eight that won the 2008 World Cup season.

Coming to the dry land, Australia achieved a surprising success in cycling by claiming five track and one road gold medals four years ago in Athens. In Beijing, Ryan Bayley will try to defend his crowns in the men's sprint and Keirin races, while Anna Meares is the reigning Olympic champion of the women's 500-meter time trial.

Australia also experienced some joyful moments in the track and field, but received bad news from star athlete Jana Rawlinson as the world 400 meters hurdles champion was forced to withdraw from Australia's Olympic team because of a long-standing toe injury.

Therefore, it seemed that Australia could only pin its hope on walker Nathan Deakes, who held the 50 kilometers world record and won the event at last year's Osaka world athletic championships.

Out of the total of 49 medals Australia grabbed at the Athens Games, one gold and three silver medals were from the team events.

The men's field hockey team, expected to retain Olympic gold in Beijing, has proved its strength by winning the prestigious 2008 Champions Trophy in the Netherlands.

Besides, the women's basketball and softball team of Australia still keep in the top level in the world.

(Xinhua News Agency July 15, 2008)

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