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Asians hope to better previous hauls

Asian nations will without doubt bag plenty of medals at the Olympics but what is blindingly clear is that hosts China will outdo all its regional competitors.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2008 00:18 IST

Asian nations will without doubt bag plenty of medals at the Olympics but what is blindingly clear is that hosts China will outdo all its regional competitors.

At the 2004 Games in Athens, 15 Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) nations fought their way onto the medals table.

A rampant China had its best-ever performance, finishing second overall to the United States with 32 gold, while Japan with 16 gold came fifth. South Korea’s nine gold earned them ninth place.

The key question in August will be whether China can topple the United States as the world’s most powerful sporting nation.

“China has an incredibly strong team. Host nations generally have home-field advantage,” admitted Steve Roush, the US Olympic Committee chief of sport performance.

“It may keep me up at night but it’s keeping up coaches and young athletes around this country too. There’s a job to be done.” While the three Asian heavyweights should again take the bulk of the glory, smaller fry like Thailand, Taiwan, and Hong Kong put athletes on the podium in 2004 and will be looking to improve in Beijing.

Mongolia, Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, Uzbekistan, UAE, Kazakhstan, Syria, and India also tasted limited success.

While lacking in blue riband events like swimming and athletics, China remains dominant in diving, table tennis, and badminton. It is also strong on the shooting ranges while it’s women’s weightlifters are top class.

Hurdler Liu Xiang is their great hope on the track, while Wu Peng could pick up a medal in the pool. With a resurgence in judo, swimming, wrestling and gymnastics, Japan, Asia’s top sporting power

before China bulldozed its way to the top, also did better than expected in Athens and will want to build on that in Beijing. Their key aim will be to overtake Australia in the medals table while keeping arch-rival South Korea at bay.

“We are targetting gold medals in two digits and a total of more than 30 medals. That is the bottom line,” said Tomiaki Fukuda, head of Japan’s delegation to Beijing.

The Koreans have at least one trick up their sleeve in teenage swim sensation Park Tae-Hwan, who burst onto the scene at the 2006 Asian Games when he took three freestyle gold medals.

He followed it up with a stunning upset victory in the 400m freestyle at the world championships last year in Melbourne, inspiring other Asian swimmers as he gatecrashed the usual US-Australian domination of the sport.

He is South Korea’s first world swimming champion and there are high hopes for him in Beijing.

Elsewhere, the region has some of the world’s best boxers, with Thailand and and Uzbekistan having the talent to cause jitters in traditional Olympic power Cuba. Thailand has one of its strongest boxing teams ever, led by defending light-welterweight champion Manus Boonjumnong, flyweight Somjit Jongjorhor, and bantamweight Worapoj Petchkoom.

“For this Olympics, everyone has a chance,” said Taweep Jantararoj, president of Amatuer Boxing Association of Thailand. Taiwan are a power in taekwondo, while badminton and table tennis are Asian domains.

It will be the rest of the world trying to muscle into these sports rather than the other way round in Beijing. Defending badminton champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia will again be out to upset world No.1 Lin Dan of China, while Lin’s girlfriend Xie Xingfang is the player to beat in the women’s event.

Paddlers from Hong Kong and Singapore will be snapping at China’s heels in table tennis, where Wang Hao and Zhang Yining are the best players currently on the planet.