China announce 639 athletes for Olympics

Beijing, July 25:

China unveiled their largest team of 639 athletes on Friday for the Beijing Olympics, a squad many expect will dislodge the United States from the top of the medal table.

China are likely to field the biggest team when the games open in two weeks. This Chinese contingent is much larger than Athens, when 407 athletes were named. China fielded 311 athletes in Sydney eight years ago. Stars such as basketball player Yao Ming and defending Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang will be under pressure to deliver at home.

China’s government hopes the Olympics will show the country as a rising political and economic power. Any slip-up in medals, delivering clean air or controlling political protests would be seen as a failure of the Communist Party leadership.

“Only two weeks left, time is running short,” Yao told the state-run news agency Xinhua. “I’m recovering well and my foot is OK, but I’ve still got problems with my physical condition.” He returned to action last week’s with China’s national team in a victory over Serbia, his first game since a stress fracture in February in his left foot ended his NBA season.

Foreign reporters were barred from Friday’s team unveiling. China won 32 gold medals in 2004, four fewer than the US. The US topped China by 39 medals in the overall count. Russia also won 10 more medals overall than China, but had only 27 gold.

The United States said this week they would send 596 athletes to the games - 43 fewer than the hosts - although the roster can change because of unforeseen circumstances like injury or illness. In a quest for more medals, China’s state-run sports schools have been targeting relatively low-profile sports such as shooting, women’s weightlifting, rowing, boxing and cycling.

The Chinese are also expected to deliver in three sports they always dominate: diving, badminton and table tennis.