Team China struggling to live up to high-water mark set in London despite bigger contingent in Rio

Mainland squad’s travails don’t compare favourably with previous successes as they chase medal table leaders USA

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 8:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 4:48pm

Despite sending its largest ever overseas contingent to the Rio Olympics, Team China has been having a topsy-turvy ride in Brazil against its rival Team US.

Chinese athletes got off to a bumpy start, winning no golds on the first day of competition. The last time that happened was at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Now, almost halfway through the Rio Games, Team China are still struggling to replicate the strong performances of Olympics past. There have been surprising victories, but also unexpected losses.

At the 2012 London Olympic, China bagged 38 gold medals, 27 silver and 23 bronze for a total of 88 medals, finishing second to the United States who took home 46 gold, 29 silver and 29 bronze.

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When Team China reached the halfway point in London, they had already won 25 gold medals. With the Rio Olympics halfway mark approaching, China have so far won only 13 golds, 11 silvers, and 17 bronzes.

“We had to show the strength of the Chinese nation. We have experience in the past of converting our silver medals to golds,” Chinese cyclist Gong Jinjie said after making history with her partner Zhong Tianshi by becoming the first Chinese athletes to win gold in track cycling.

“We achieved a dream as cyclists and Chinese people as well. We wanted to conquer the world record and win the gold medal. We have got so many silver and bronze medals in the past, it is really exciting to achieve the dream.”

As they dashed to the finishing line in the qualifier at the Rio Olympic Velodrome, Gong and Zhong smashed the Olympic record. They then set a new world record of 31.928 seconds in the semi-finals.

Despite the Chinese delegation’s success in track cycling, it has not been as smooth in other events.

Superstar swimmer Sun Yang broke down in tears after losing to Australian rival Mack Horton in the 400m freestyle race, taking home the silver.

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The 24-year-old staged a comeback and clinched gold in the 200m free race, but in his strongest race, the 1,500m free, he failed to reach the final while suffering from a cold.

“I did not perform well today. But I should let the past be the past,” Sun said.

Sun’s 200m success is so far China’s only gold in swimming. At the London Olympics, the country won five swimming golds.

It was a similar story for Sun’s teammate Ye Shiwen, the 20-year-old world record holder in the women’s 400m individual medley also failed to reach to final in Rio.

China’s Olympic flag-bearer and fencer Lei Sheng, defending champion in individual foil, lost in the first round.

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China sent 416 athletes to compete in 26 sports at Rio 2016 – its largest team for an overseas international competition. Among those 416 athletes, 35 have won Olympic golds and their average age is just 24 – the youngest average in each of the past three Olympics.

At the Chinese delegation’s welcoming ceremony at the Rio Athletes’ Village, chef de mission Liu Peng was asked to comment on the view of many that the Rio Olympics would be a battle between China and the US.

“China and the US have ranked number one and two in the past few Olympic Games. That has shown that the two countries ... are overall strong,” he said.

Liu, who is also minister of the general administration of China, set a few goals for Chinese athletes. While he wanted the Chinese athletes to fight for “better results”, he also wanted them to show sportsmanship and the spirit of perseverance.

Although the Chinese athletes have so far not been performing as well as they did at London 2012, Chinese still fans have high hopes for them.

And thousands have posted messages of support on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.