China seeks top-two finish in Rio

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 A ceremony was held to unveil the Chinese Olympic team's uniforms for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, in Beijing, capital of China, June 29, 2016. (Photo/

With exactly one month to go before the 2016 Summer Olympic Games open in Rio de Janeiro, Chinese athletes are making a final push to consolidate their established strengths.

China topped the Olympic medals table for the first time in 2008, a feat accompanied by the achievement of the nation's "100-year dream" to host the world's most prestigious sports event.

At the London Olympics four years later, China finished second behind the United States in the medals table.

"At the 2016 Rio Olympics we aim to maintain and consolidate already-existing advantages in sports events and results positions," China's State Genearl Administration of Sport said in its five-year plan for 2016-2020.

Looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the administration added that "China will strive to get a leading position in the results."

Eight years ago in Beijing, 38 of the hosts' 51 titles came in table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, gymnastics and weightlifting. These are the six Olympic sports China has long dominated. In London, Chinese athletes won 38 gold medals altogether, with 26 of them coming in those six sports.

It's a pattern that is likely to be continued in Rio.

In table tennis, anything less than a clean sweep of gold medals would be seen as a failure for China, having won 24 gold medals at seven Olympics. Li Xiaoxia will look to defend her women's singles title, an accomplishment she said would be "the perfect end" to her table tennis career. Men's world number one Ma Long, who was overlooked for the London 2012 singles event, is to lead the charge on men's singles title.

China won gold in all five badminton events in 2012, but competition in Rio is likely to be more open after an Olympic rule change that limits delegations to two singles entrants in each event. Each team could previously enter three, a rule that favors powerhouses like China and Indonesia due to their depth of talent.

China's Lin Dan, widely considered badminton's greatest player ever of all time, will be going for his third straight singles gold.

"I'm aware that there are a lot of expectations for me, but I also know it's very important to keep a good mentality when you are playing on the court, so I'll try not to put myself under pressure," said Lin, who is nicknamed "Super Dan" by his fans.

Lin's top rival is Malaysia's Lee Chongwei, the current world No. 1. The 33-year-old Lee went down to Lin twice in Beijing in 2008 and again in London in 2012.

China's all-conquering "Dream Team" of divers snatched 10 out of 13 gold medals on offer at last year's world championships in Kazan, and they will be desperate to go better than 2012, when they fell two Olympic titles short.

But team manager Zhou Jihong tried to play down the prospect. "The other teams have made rapid progress in recent years. What's more, the competition will be held outdoors and there are so many factors. For us, it is a challenge," said Zhou.

China notably lost ground in gymnastics in London, where they fell from seven gold medals in 2008 to just three. In Rio, Chinese gymnasts face an uphill competition to defend their men's team title, as the Kohei Uchimura-inspired Japanese team are formidable.

The Asian rivals have battled over the past decade with China winning two Olympic medals, but Uchimara helped Japan win the team gold at the world championships last year in Glasgow.

"We felt very disappointed about finishing behind Japan at the world championships and worked even harder during the past winter," said Chinese team leader Luo Chaoyi. "Our gymnasts hold an edge regarding the degree of difficulty, but the Japanese are better in terms of execution. The battle between us and Japan will be wide open."

Expectations are also high for China's swimmers, in particular Sun Yang, who has attracted as much spotlight for his controversial out-of-competition behavior as he has for his performance in the pool.

The first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming gold medal with his victories in the 1,500- and 400-meter freestyle events at the 2012 London Games, Sun followed that with triple gold at the 2013 world championships .

But he was suspended from training and competition in November 2013 after being detained for seven days for driving without a license. He had previously been criticized after a feud with his coach and for missing practice in order to make commercial appearances.

The 25-year-old Sun fractured his right foot in January this year when he was training in Australia and was sidelined for over three months. Since returning to the pool in May, Sun has proven he remains a force in the water, swimming the year's fastest 200m freestyle time at 1:44.82 to triumph at the Pro Swim meet in California, and he will again be favorite for his races in Rio. Along with 1,500 and 400, Sun plans to swim in the 200 freestyle as well in Rio.

"Four years ago, I won a gold medal," Sun told reporters. "The impact of these four years, of defending my identity, and the pressure has changed, but the goal has not changed. My goal is to defend my gold medals."

Besides Sun, Ning Zetao and Fu Yuanhui are also medal hopefuls in the men's 100m freestyle and women's 50m backstroke respectively.

In athletics, while former Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang has retired, indoors world champion Dong Bin (men's triple jump) and Zhang Guowei (men's high jump) will carry China's hopes.

Great things are also expected from Chen Ding, the defending Olympic champion in men's 20km race walk, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Zhang Wenxiu in women's hammer throw.

China also has medal chances in taekwondo, judo, women's water polo, cycling and trampoline, in which they have numerous world champions.

Despite its impressive medal hauls, China is a relative underperformer in team sports. In Rio, Chinese women's volleyball side is the only team that has chances to win medals. The team, coached by legendary Lang Ping, are the reigning World Cup champions and won seven out of eight games in the FIVB world grand prix event.

"We are a young team. Most players will be making their Olympic debut in Rio, so we must get ourselves well prepared for the Games," said Lang, who was known as "Iron Hammer" during her play days.

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