China, US to battle it out for top position in London
London: China beat long-time Olympic powerhouse United States in the number of gold medals at Beijing 2008 but in London it might be a different story.
China captured 51 golds, 21 silvers and 28 bronzes in Beijing, relegating the United States to second place with a 36-38-36 record.
Russia were third on 23-21-28 and Britain followed with 19-13-15. Germany, Australia and South Korea occupied the following three positions. Japan were eighth and Italy finished ninth ahead of France.
After the Beijing Games, Chinese sports authorities kept playing down domestic expectations on repeating the feat in London.
"As far as the pattern of recent Olympics is concerned, Chinese athletes will inevitably win less medals in London but the Chinese delegation will try hard to stay in the leading group," said deputy chef de mission Cai Zhenhua.
China fielded a 396-strong delegation featuring 33 Olympic champions to the July 27-Aug 12 Games.
According to statistics from the past five Olympics, Olympic hosts tend to have a 32.8 percent drop in gold medals and a 25.9 percent reduction in total medals at the next Games and the pattern is likely to repeat on China.
The United States will send 530 athletes, including 124 Olympic medalists, to compete in 215 sports.
For the Americans, the disciplines to dominate are swimming that will produce 34 gold medals and the track and field where 47 titles are on offer.
Beijing Olympic eight-time winner Michael Phelps is surely the one to watch in a star-studded U.S. swimming squad that clinched 16 gold medals, six silvers and nine bronzes in the Shanghai swimming world championships last year when host China finished second on 15-13-8, including 10 diving golds in as many events.
The competition for a spot behind the two sports giants will also be fierce as Russia and host Britain both riveted their eyes on it.
Russia has set a minimum target of 25 gold medals from their 436 athletes, slightly fewer than 468 in Beijing Olympics.
"We will struggle for the place in the top three, but we could not catch on with the United States and China. Our principal competitor for the third place will be Britain," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said.
Even more prepared should be host Britain which set a minimum target of 48 medals after a record-breaking performance of 47 medals in Beijing.
UK Sport Chief executive Liz Nicholl admitted that they set a relatively low target figure, and it was "comfortably" within the team`s range, and failure to make it would be a "major disappointment", according to The Telegraph.
"We aspire for them to be more than 48," Nicholl was quoted as saying.