China harvests in `backyard` sports but challenges loom ahead of Olympics

Last Updated: Dec 27, 2011, 19:14 PM IST

Beijing: China enjoyed solid dominance in their preferred sports in 2011 but challenges loom ahead of the London Olympics.

China is traditionally strong in sports like diving, table tennis and badminton, from which the world`s most populous nation has reaped piles of international titles.

The "dream team" of Chinese divers topped the FINA World Championships` diving medal tally in Shanghai this July, sweeping all 10 golds plus four silvers.

It was the first time in history that Chinese divers swept the board at the Worlds.

China bagged seven out of eight golds on offer at the 2008 Beijing Games, and took seven out of 10 at the 2009 Rome worlds.

The retirement of "diving queen" Guo Jingjing had little impact on the Chinese team, which was made up of both veterans and teenage talent.

In table tennis, Chinese clean-swept gold medals in the Rotterdam World Championships in May.

Zhang Jike, 23, and Ding Ning, 21, beat fancied teammates to win the men`s and women`s singles title, proving China is never short of new blood in the game.

In the last six editions of the Olympic Games, China swept the gold in 1996, 2000 and 2008.

Although the International Table Tennis Federation`s decision to deduct one player each from the men`s and women`s singles events next year in London increased the uncertainty for China, the stake to win all is still high with their vast reserve of talent.

The Chinese badminton team failed to complete a title sweep in 2011, but the shuttlers` sound performance still proved their tight grip on the sport.

With the loss of the Uber Cup, the top women`s team trophy, China made up with a fourth straight Thomas Cup victory in Kuala Lumpur in May.

The Chinese team went on to win all five singles and doubles golds in the World Championships in Paris in August, repeating the feat after a 23-year gap.

However, with only seven months to go before the Olympics, Chinese sports officials also see challenges amid the encouraging achievements.

"Generally speaking, we maintain our advantage in the sports that Chinese athletes traditionally excel in, but there is not much room for them to improve or win more gold medals in these sports," said Cai Jiadong, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC).

Thirty-nine out of 51 gold medals China won in the 2008 Olympics came from gymnastics, weightlifting, diving, shooting, table tennis, badminton and judo.

While China will continue to win medals in the traditional sports at London, it is unrealistic to expect the athletes in these sports to be as good as in 2008.

For example, the Chinese gymnasts, who had snatched an amazing nine golds at Beijing, slipped to four golds, five silvers and three bronzes at the 2011 World Championships in Japan.

With the retirement of the "Diamond Generation" including Yang Wei, Huangxu and Li Xiaopeng, it will be a mission impossible for the Chinese gymnasts to attain the 2008 glory.

"The competition of the London Games will be really tough. We are going to face stiff challenge," said head coach Huang Yubin.

Chinese weightlifters pocketed eight gold medals in Beijing, but in the World Championships in Paris last month, they only won six.

China`s judo team, who won three golds in Beijing, is also suffering from under-performance by their athletes, with the reigning Olympic champion Tong Wen taking the only gold for China in this year`s judo worlds.

IANS