China unveils smaller London Olympics team

China has announced a far smaller team for the London Olympics than the one that topped the gold medal table at home four years ago, but expectations are high of another dominant performance.

Just 396 Chinese athletes will go to London, down from a record-breaking 639 in Beijing and fewer even than the 407 who competed at the Athens Games in 2004.

But sports officials emphasised that the London-bound team, unveiled at a ceremony in Beijing on Tuesday, was still China's third-biggest for an Olympics and urged the athletes to bring their country glory.

"The Chinese athletes must get fully prepared and ready to face the challenges. We have to fight for each gold," Sports Minister Liu Peng said at the announcement ceremony.

In Beijing, China as the host country could be represented in every sport, however it failed to qualify in a number of events for London.

These included the men's volleyball and soccer tournaments, which would have added dozens of athletes to the delegation.

Nevertheless, pressure is building on the Chinese team to cement the country's status as an Olympic powerhouse.

"In the gold-medal rankings, China will for sure end in the top two," said Wei Jizhong, former secretary-general of the Chinese Olympic Committee, according to the China Daily newspaper.

China has long dominated in sports with a lower profile in Western countries, such as table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, gymnastics and weightlifting.

Thirty-eight of China's table-topping 51 gold medals in Beijing came in these sports.

But in London, China is also looking for success in what are considered more prestigious Olympic sports, including swimming and track and field.

Among those with huge expectations on them in this regard is Sun Yang, who is tipped to become China's first male Olympic swimming champion.

Sun, who smashed Grant Hackett's decade-old 1,500m world record last year, ranks number one in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m.

Tennis superstar Li Na, who won China's first Grand Slam title at last year's French Open, will also be in London.

One of the other high-profile athletes going to London is 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, who famously won China's first track gold medal in Athens but then sensationally pulled out of the first heat in Beijing with an Achilles injury.

Australia also announced a streamlined team for London on Wednesday, with a similar explanation of not being able to qualify in enough events.

The Australian team of 410 is the lowest since Barcelona in 1992 and well down on the 632 who took part on home soil at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

An Australian Olympic Committee official said the team was the smallest for years because it failed to qualify for three of the 26 disciplines -- fencing, football and handball.

"The team being smaller than previous Olympics is all based on qualifications, it's not a financial decision," the official said.

South Korea also announced it would send just 245 athletes to compete in 22 events in London Olympics, the smallest number since 210 attended the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

But the Korea Olympic Committee (KOC) remained upbeat about its target of securing at least 10 golds and a finish inside the top 10 in the overall medal tally.

"We have trained and prepared very hard to achieve our goal," said team chief Lee Ki-Heung as he was presented with the national flag in a ceremony at Olympic Hall in eastern Seoul.

The South failed to qualify in basketball, tennis, equestrian events and canoeing. Its national sport, baseball, was dropped as an Olympic event.


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