Olympics: Amid China’s aspirations there’ll be something for everyone

By David Hein, DPA,

Hamburg : China enters the 2008 Olympics looking to compete for the overall medals title, and dominance by the hosts in a number of sports will help in that goal. China’s overall haul will largely depend on their showing in sports where they usually dominate.

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One of the Chinese main strongholds has been badminton where the nation actually has seen the men and women world number ones – Lin Dan and Xie Xingfang – become a couple.

With a planned marriage coming after the Beijing Games, both Lin and Xie hope to bring a 2008 gold medal to married life. But Chinese badminton possesses so many top talents that a number of the shuttlers left home are better than many of the competitors in Beijing.

The same is the case in Chinese table tennis, where both the men and women are expected to dominate the podium after 33 medals in 20 events including 16 golds since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988.

The main story being the world’s number one player Wang Hao, who will be looking to improve on his silver from 2004, when he lost in the final against South Korea’s Ryu Seung Min.

Somewhat less historically dominant but full of expectations come August are the Chinese shooters, who could actually bag the first medal for the host nation early on the first day of action.

Two other Asian nations also expected to dominate an individual sport in Beijing are Japan in judo and South Korea in archery.

The 2008 Olympics could also see a number of siblings share gold medal moments.

The wrestling field has a trio of siblings, including two-time Olympic welterweight champion Buvaisa Saitiyev and his younger brother Adam, who claimed middleweight gold in 2000 from the dominating Russia team.

The Japanese sister duo of Chiharu and Kaori Icho both won wrestling medals in Athens and are reigning world champions while American brothers Mike and Bill Zadick both collected freestyle medals at the 2006 World Championships.

Another American family story is in taekwondo where Steven Lopez is a two-time defending Olympic champion and younger siblings Mark and Diana are making their Olympic debuts in Beijing. And oldest brother Jean will be coaching Team USA for the second time.

A final pair of siblings looking for gold are the New Zealand identical twin rowers Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell, who could bring home another double sculls gold medal as the 2004 Olympic champions took silver at the 2007 Worlds behind the Chinese duo of Qin Li and Liang Tian.

While nearly every gold medallist has a great story, there are a few absolute highlights-in-waiting should they come to fruition.

In the weightlifting world, Hossein Rezazadeh will be hoping to clinch super heavyweight gold for the third straight time but Turkey’s Halil Mutlu has decided against attempting to win a fourth straight gold medal after failing to lift his target weight in practice.

There is an absolute star-in-the-making in triathlon where Vanessa Fernandes of Portugal finished eighth at Athens 2004 as an 18-year-old and has since won five straight European titles and the 2007 World crown.

The world of gymnastics always brings in new stars and Shawn Johnson of the US is the favourite for the much-cherished all-around individual gold, ready to join Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson as 16-year-old starlets to grab gold. China’s Yang Wei is the men’s favourite.

Brazilian Robert Scheidt is the biggest story in sailing as he goes for his third Olympics gold medal – and fourth overall – after making the switch from the laser to star class.

The modern pentathlon women’s competition promises a top-notch showdown between two-time reigning world champion Amelie Caze of France and Egypt’s 19-year-old hopeful Aya Medany.

Dutch equestrian dressage star Anky van Grunsven goes for her third straight gold medal while Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy lead a British cycling team ready to dominate the 2008 Games – especially in the track events.

Tony Estanguet and Michal Martikan will continue their ongoing canoe battle and the women’s sport looks to move past the retirement of the legendary Brigit Fischer – the owner of eight golds and 27 world titles.

In fencing, Valentina Vezzali’s attempt for her third straight individual gold is just one reason why the Italian team has plenty of high expectations in Beijing.

Perhaps the most dominating side in team sports is the US softball team. Team USA is fully expected to clinch their fourth gold medal in the fourth Olympics after putting on an amazing display at Athens 2004, out-scoring their opponents 51-1 in nine games.

Softball and baseball are both on their way off the Olympic programme, definitely a disappointment for Cuba since they have captured three of the four Olympic golds along with silver in 2000 while also claiming 25 world titles including 12 of the last 13.

World handball champions Germany hope to get past Croatia for Olympic glory after falling to the Balkan giants in the 2004 gold medal game. The men’s bill will be missing three-time Olympic silver medallists and two-time world champions Sweden. An even bigger hole is on the women’s side where the three-time reigning Olympic champions Denmark did not qualify for Beijing.

In field hockey, all three nations Australia, Germany and Netherlands can sweep the men and women golds.

And the US and Brazil are expected to battle Russia and China for gold in volleyball.