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|August 23, 2000||
China hopes to vault on luckTan Ee Lyn in Beijing
With some luck, China could bring home from the Sydney Olympics a bag of gold medals in gymnastics, including the coveted men's team title.
Facing its strongest adversaries in Russia and Romania, China will field the same power-packed men's team that grabbed the team title at the World Championships in Tianjin in October 1999.
China, five-time winner of the men's world team title since the 1980s, will be going into the Olympics a third time as team world champions, but have never won a team Olympic gold.
Russia hold the men's Olympic team title.
"We definitely have the confidence and we definitely have the ability to get the men's team title if there are no mistakes. That is not a problem," said Zhang Jian, China's top gymnastics coach and vice president of the Chinese Gymnastics Association.
"For our entire team, men and women, we should get two, three gold medals or more," Zhang told Reuters.
National coach Qian Kui is even more confident, but he says luck will count.
"There are eight or nine chances for gold. But even to get two or three will depend on luck. Luck is very important," Qian said.
Chinese gymnasts in Sydney will be younger and stronger than the previous group in Atlanta, which brought home one gold. Li Xiaoshuang, now retired, was all-round champion in Atlanta.
With their powerhouse swimming team floundering, pressure is mounting on China's other heavyweight disciplines such as gymnastics, diving, table tennis and weightlifting.
Aside from Russia and Romania, China expect stiff team competition from the Ukraine, Belarus and the United States, while in individual events Italy, Spain and Switzerland are seen as top challengers.
"Spain, Italy and Switzerland. These countries are not good overall but they're concentrating their energies on individual events and perfecting them," Qian said.
Leading the Chinese men's team is Li Xiaopeng, 19, all-round world champion in 1997 and 1999, and a specialist in the floor exercises, the parallel bars and vault.
"Floor exercises, parallel bars and vault. I'll try to get medals in these," said Li, who sports a closely-shaven head.
The coaches try not to let expectations upset their athletes.
"Breathe deeply, relax a bit, don't put too much pressure on yourself," Zhang was overheard muttering to Li at a recent training session.
China hope to grab the women's titles for asymmetric bars and the balance beam, but expect tough competition.
"Our adversaries are many. Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Spain," said women's coach Lu Shanzhen.
"Our Sydney team may not be as strong overall as the Atlanta team but there are individual events that we are strong in."
Leading the team will be veteran Liu Xuan, 21, China's first woman gymnast to make a second Olympic appearance and the balance beam champion in the World Cup and Asian Games in 1998.
She will be accompanied by asymmetric bars specialist Ling Jie, 19, who won the beam title in Tianjin.
Local sports commentators are also touting tiny Bai Chunyue, 16, who stands just 1.32 metres.
Dubbed "the little person with tremendous courage" by the local media, Bai is noted for her steely gaze and unwavering concentration. She was third all-around in Tianjin.
Mail Sports Editor
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