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Female athletes to lead Russia’s gold rush in Beijing

By Wu Junkuan, Xinhua,

Beijing : Russia is confident of winning more medals in Beijing than they did four years ago in Athens. However the goal will largely rely on the performance of its female athletes.

Vladimir Vasin, vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), said in a recent interview: “Our goal in Beijing Games is to remain among the top three in the medals table.”

“It may be difficult for us to surpass the US and host China,” said Leonid Tyagachev, head of ROC early this month. “But I believe our athletes will perform very well at Beijing and improve the result they achieved four years ago at Athens,” said a confident Tyagachev.

Tyagachev’s confidence comes from Russia’s performance in Athens. In 2004, Russia finished third in the medals table after the US and China, coming home with 92 medals (27 gold, 27 silver and 38 bronze). While on both the occasions in Sydney (2000) and Atlanta (1996), Russia was second.

This time Russia is sending around 470 athletes to compete in the Beijing Games. And female athletes will play an important role in their medal plan.

With a star-studded tennis team, Russia is the top favourite to win the women’s singles. The enviable dream team includes world No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 6 Elena Dementieva and 9th-ranked Dinara Safina.

Russia’s athletics squad will also be led by famous women stars. The “Queen of Pole Vault” Yelena Isinbayeva just renewed the world record to 5.03m in last Friday’s Golden League, showing solid form before the Games.

The long jump event is also grasped by Russians who enjoyed a podium sweep at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Moreover, Olga Kaniskina in 20km walk, Yekaterina Volkova in 3,000m steeplechase, Anna Chicherova in high jump, and Yuliya Pechenkina in 400m hurdles will all be gold medal prospects in Beijing.

Russian ladies are enjoying a comfortable control in synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics too, claiming both team and individual golds of the two sports in Athens.

The ROC is also hoping for a medals boost from the women’s team ball event. The basketball squad is the reigning European champs and the handball team won three world titles in a row from 2003 to 2007. The volleyball team, silver medallists in 2004, also set their eye on the gold in Beijing Games.

Ambitious as Russian female athletes are, the Beijing Olympics provide Russian men a spotlighted arena to show their vigour and strength. Sports like shooting, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and boxing will all be medal mines for Russia.