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China revels in "golden harvest"

August 17, 2004 16:27 IST

China is in the grip of a gold rush.

Olympic fever is keeping tens of millions of Chinese awake and watching television into the early hours as their sports heroes leap to the top of the medal standings, amassing 10 golds in just four days at the Athens Games.

Colour pictures of athletes fill the newspapers, sports writers pump out fulsome biographies and interviews with medal winners and television serves up a rich diet of Olympic programming, sweeping aside popular soap operas and game shows.

Every few minutes the Chinese national anthem rings out on one of the many state-run television channels along with yet another shot of China's red flag rising above a Greek stadium.

"Due to the five-hour time difference, millions of Chinese sports fans have to sit before their televisions sometimes until day almost breaks," said the China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.

"But each gold medal Chinese athletes win comes as a prize for our loud shouts of 'come on' from thousands of miles away."

China has one of the biggest teams at the Games, a total of 407 athletes. Many are household names at home.

Olympic programming is running almost round the clock on three stations run by China Central Television.

"Big gold medal harvest today. Another day for China at Athens Olympics" screamed a banner headline on the Xinhua news agency's Olympic Web site after China won six golds on Monday.

Ambitions are high.

"Conservative estimates say we should win at least 20 golds, while some optimistic guesses put it at over 30 ... However, since China has one quarter of the world's population, we should be able to win even more than that," said one Xinhua commentary. China is the world's most populous nation with more than 1.3 billion people.

With more than a dozen golds still up for grabs in such traditionally strong events as table tennis, badminton and weightlifting, China's athletes have solid chances of surpassing the national goal of 20 golds.

They could even match the 28-gold haul gathered in at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.


More sober voices are advising against hubris.

A Xinhua report forecast a bump in the road on Tuesday, with the team having medal chances in only two or three events.

At a Sunday news conference widely covered by domestic media, Chinese team spokeswoman He Huixian cautioned against overconfidence.

"She warned that any tiny mistake could cost China a lot, citing the example of Li's defeat in weightlifting," Xinhua reported on Monday.

Li Zhuo, who had to settle for silver in the women's 48-kg class, is one of several heavily favoured Chinese athletes who have failed to live up to expectations.

Among the most disappointing results was the fifth-place flop of the defending champion men gymnasts in the team event.

While the national anthem interrupts television coverage throughout the day, little mention is made of Olympic losses.

China prefers to rally behind its champions and its dreams of yet greater glory when it plays host to the Games in 2008.

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