BEIJING, June 19 (Xinhua) -- With the nation still in mourning over the deaths in May's earthquake, China's athletes must focus hard on their preparation as they enter the final lap before the Beijing Games in August.
Many Chinese people had been looking forward to seeing their athletes win many gold medals in Beijing. That was before Cuban Dayron Robles broke the world record of 110 meters hurdles, the discipline in which China's top medal hope and current Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang was penciled in by many as a banker for gold. Liu went to the United States in late May to take part in two top-level races but flopped in both, after a false start and a hamstring twinge. Another blow came on the gymnastics floor, where China's athletes bore great hopes on their shoulders. A new rule by the International Gymnastics Federation reduced the group competing in team event from six members to five and cancelled the privilege of all-round athletes in participating in specific events, a move to lessen the advantage of some teams. "This is unfavorable to us," said Zhang Peiwen, head of the Chinese gymnastics team, "it is easier for more teams to form a five-member team rather than one with six ace players." In shooting, Xiao Haopeng, head of the Chinese shooting squad, saw the dramatic progress of foreign shooters after three World Cups earlier this year, especially those from Germany, Russia and France. "Previously we thought that we had an advantage in competing in finals, but now, the advantage is gone," he said. Women's 10-meter air rifle is supposed to produce the first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, and Du Li, world record holder and gold medalist at the Athens Olympics, is preparing to defend her title.
However, in the test event of Good Luck Beijing ISSF World Cup, Du only picked up a bronze in the event, surrendering the gold to Czech markswoman Katerina Emmons, who equaled the world record with 504.9 points.
The Chinese shooting team has started a 20-day training in Yantai of the eastern Shandong Province. "They have been relaxed since the end of May, and didn't even touch guns during the period," said Xiao Haopeng, the team leader. "Hopefully the new place could enhance their interest in training and improve both skills and form," he said, noting that in shooting, psychological condition sometimes could be more important. The Chinese table tennis team has just released the names of the Olympic team. Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin will play for the men's team, while Guo Yue, Zhang Yining and Wang Nan play for the women's. Wang Nan and Wang Liqin, both gold medalists at the Sydney Olympics, are not in good shape at present, said Liu Guoliang, head coach of the team. The team [started] a 36-day training on the [June 21], before a two-day warm-up contest at the end of July, he added. Liu Xiang is engaged in his final preparation. "Everybody hopes Liu will win again. That puts him under great pressure," said Feng Shuyong, head coach of the Chinese track and field team. "I will do my best and remain cool-headed," said Liu Xiang. "Yao Ming told me to treat the Olympic Games as daily life and not to be nervous," he added. Yao, the Houston Rockets center, missed the remainder of the season after suffering a broken left ankle at the beginning of this year, [returned] in at the end of June to go through training with the Chinese basketball team.[…]
"What I need to practice now is moving as I do in real competitions," he said.
Looking into the first Olympic Games to be hosted in China, many people expect the country to make a breakthrough and top the gold medal list. Table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, weightlifting and gymnastics are six major sports that are supposed to produce at least three gold medals each. Thus Chinese athletes are expected to reap some 37 to 45 gold in this Olympics. However, the expectation was shadowed by the "home disadvantage", which imposes more pressure on athletes. Amid the pressure, many former Olympic champions were shut out of the sports gala, including taekwondo gold medalist Luo Wei, weightlifter Zhang Guozheng and long-distance runner Xing Huina. "We shouldn't pay too much attention to the gold medals," said Deng Yaping, a former table tennis player, who had bagged four Olympic gold medals. "What is more important lies behind the medals -- courage and persistence. They are the spirit of sports," she said.