Swimmer Sun Yang (left), hurdler Liu Xiang (center) and tennis player Li Na are among China's best hopes to claim gold in the more popular international sports at the 2012 Olympics. Cui Meng / China Daily (left and right), Peter Parks / Agence France-Presse.
The 2008 Olympic Games were as big as it gets for China. Which means it's going to be very difficult to go even bigger in London this coming summer. The memory of the Beijing Games serves as both motivation and pressure as the delegation gears up for the 2012 Olympics.
Traditionally dominant in sports like table tennis, diving and badminton, a more mature China better understands that being recognized as a sports powerhouse comes not just from sweeping those relatively unheralded sports, but through improvement in globally significant events like track and field, swimming, tennis, soccer and basketball.
Former 110m hurdles world and Olympic champion Liu Xiang, rising swimming star Sun Yang and women's Grand Slam winner Li Na will lead the list of Chinese athletes competing for global attention.
Gold medals in their respective sports would certainly boost China's image again - but it's not that easy.
Liu - who struggled the past three years to recover from the foot injury that dragged him off the field at the Bird's Nest in 2008 - made an impressive return in 2011, winning a silver medal at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August.
Senior sports officials are trying to temper the overwhelming expectations for the 2004 Olympics' gold medalist.
"I think Liu is much more mature. He has recovered well from injury and has maintained good form in 2011," said Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) president Duan Shijie. "I am confident that he will achieve good results if he has a normal race. I think everybody should be satisfied with whatever medal - gold, silver or bronze - he wins because he has spared no efforts in his sport."
Liu is also trying to keep a low profile.
"I have been through two Olympic Games. It will be just another competition," he said. "I will try to get myself into good shape and we will see what happens."
Liu isn't China's lone hope in track and field.
Reigning world champion Li Yanfeng in the women's discus, hammer thrower Zhang Wenxiu and several young race walking athletes also have medal hopes in London.
Chinese swimming was on a rocky road before Sun came to the fore.
The 20-year-old world champion and men's 1,500m freestyle swimming world record holder was one of the world's most popular stars in the pool last year thanks to his 800m and 1,500m freestyle gold medals at the Shanghai World Championships. He also broke the 1,500m freestyle world record held by Australian Grant Hackett for 10 years.
Chinese woman Liu Zige won the host team's only gold four years ago, so the world's attention will turn to the men's team for the first time in London.
"I can still swim better in the 1,500m freestyle in 2012. My coach has set me a new target, but it's not the right time to release it now," said Sun.
Chinese swimmers won five gold, two silver and seven bronze in Shanghai - their best result since 1994 - so the pool could be fertile ground for medals.
China's international superstar-club also boasts women's tennis player Li, the 2011 French Open champion.
Li reached the semifinals four years ago, and should be one of the favorites in London as she tries to win China's first singles tennis gold medal.
In Beijing, athletes from gymnastics, weightlifting, diving, shooting, table tennis, badminton and judo contributed 39 of the host's 51 gold medals.
Those sports will continue to contribute medals to the delegation, but it will be difficult to maintain the same level of dominance away from home soil.
China's gymnasts, who claimed nine golds at the Beijing Games, slipped to four gold, five silver and three bronze at last year's World Championships in Japan.
Once again, China's not feeling good about the state of its soccer, basketball or volleyball teams.
With the early elimination of the women's and men's soccer teams, the nation's only medal hope in team ball sports will be shouldered by the women's volleyball team, which won the bronze medal in 2008.
After a lackluster performance in the World Championships and a disappointing bottom-eight finish at the World Grand Prix Finals in Macao, new head coach Yu Juemin's women are no longer the team to beat.
The situation is similar in men's basketball after an injury-plagued Yao Ming announced his retirement last year.
Without its star center, the team is struggling to play well against teams in the Asian field.
Power forward Yi Jianlian, who is still settling into the NBA, and former NBA player Wang Zhizhi will lead the team, but it's a great mountain to climb to repeat the eighth-place finish of four years ago in Beijing.