Yao and Liu among a galaxy of Chinese stars likely to grace the Games
A senior Chinese official has promised China will send their 'strongest' squad for next year's East Asian Games in Macau, paving the way for spectators to watch a host of household names that could include star hurdler Liu Xiang and NBA superstar Yao Ming.
He Huixian, vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said it was 'entirely' possible that Liu and Yao would take their place in Macau's biggest sporting event. She said diving aces Tian Liang and Guo Jingjing - dubbed China's Romeo and Juliet diving couple - could also be Macau-bound depending on their availability.
'It depends on several factors like availability and whether the athlete is sick or injured, but there is a strong possibility that these athletes will perform in Macau,' assured He. 'We view the East Asian Games as an important multi-sports competition. It is second only to the Asian Games and it is probably the third biggest [multi-sport] event after the Olympics for us.
'The standard of the East Asian Games is high and all the top athletes in the region will be competing. We will definitely send our top athletes,' she said. 'We don't want to lose to the Koreans in the medals table too. That's why we will take the East Asian Games seriously.'
Yao had, in fact, competed at the last East Asian Games in Osaka three years ago - but that was before he found fame and fortune in the NBA. It remains to be seen whether China's most famous athlete would obtain permission from the Houston Rockets to make the trip to Macau so close to the start of the NBA season.
But He said diving stars Tian and Guo were almost certain to compete and they are bound to show off the style and grace that won them multiple Olympic gold medals at the impressive Macau Olympic Aquatic Centre, which will play host to the swimming and diving competitions.
Adjacent to the diving pool, 100 metre women's breaststroke Olympic champion Luo Xuejuan could also take her place, giving fans a lot to cheer about. 'Tian and Guo will compete because the Games are one of the major competitions for them in 2005. I am sure they will compete,' she said.
The Chinese athletes' participation would undeniably draw a big crowd to the diving, swimming, basketball, shooting and athletic events, judging by the reception the Olympic stars received when they made an appearance in Hong Kong in September, fresh from their Athens victories.