China expects 30-36 golds in Rio Olympics

416 athletes to compete in 210 events across 26 sports

China is expected to be among the top medal winners at the Rio Olympics, and will continue to dominate competitions in table tennis, diving, badminton and shooting, as the country steadily catches up in swimming and track-and-field, analysts said.

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A total of 416 Chinese athletes will participate in the Games, which starts on Friday local time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Chinese athletes will compete in 210 events in 26 sports. The Chinese delegation includes 27 gold medalists from the 2012 London Games, such as five-time badminton world champion Lin Dan and distance swimmer record-holder Sun Yang.

China topped the 2008 Beijing Olympics with 51 gold medals and 38 golds in London in 2012 behind the US.

There is no official target or forecast of how many gold medals Chinese athletes are expected to get in Rio. But Chinese media, such as the Beijing Evening News, are confident China can rake in at least 30 gold medals.

Chinese experts said they also believe Goldman Sachs’ recent predictions are close to what they have in mind.

According to a Goldman Sachs report on Monday, the world’s two largest economies, the US and China, will again win most gold medals at the Olympics, and Britain will push Russia out of third place in the overall standings.

The report claims US athletes will come away with 45 gold medals, one less than they got in London four years ago, while China will win 36, two fewer than in 2012.

The Russian team, hit by doping bans, will collect 14 golds, 12 fewer than the recently revised total of their London haul four years ago, Goldman Sachs predicts.

Favored sports

China is expected to maintain its dominance in table tennis. Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia will represent China in the women’s singles event, while Ma Long and Zhang Jike lead the men’s singles team. Both Li and Zhang won gold at the London Games.

China swept all four gold medals in table tennis in London and Beijing, and took 24 of the 28 gold medals since the sport was included in the Games in 1988.

In badminton, superstar Lin Dan will very likely play against his old rival, Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, whom Lin called his “fiercest opponent.” In the women’s singles event, Li Xuerui is China’s gold medal hope. She currently ranks No.3 in the world and won a gold medal in London.

In diving, 13 athletes – six men and seven women – will compete, led by London champions Wu Minxia and Chen Ruolin. Wu is the first woman to win gold in a diving event in three consecutive games. She will forego this year’s singles event for the 3-meter synchronized springboard team.

Of the 17 Chinese athletes in shooting, six are Olympic gold medalists, including four-time Olympians Du Li, Zhu Qinan and Chen Ying. The team is expected to revive its glory from Beijing where China swept the five gold medals in the category.

Though China will continue dominating the sports it is traditionally good at, the US has the edge in sports with the largest number of medals at stake, namely swimming and track and field.

But sports commentators said China is steadily improving in swimming. The 45-member Chinese Olympic swimming team will be led by two-time Olympic champion Sun Yang and 2015 freestyle world champion Ning Zetao. The Chinese men’s 4×100 meter relay team is a medal contender in Rio, after they won silver at an international competition in Beijing in August 2015.

Shift to pro sports

Analysts say China will continue to fund Olympics sports training as part of the country’s long-term strategy to boost its Olympic tally, but the country is also shifting some of its focus to professional sports, like soccer and basketball.

“It’s an inevitable trend. The numbers of those watching soccer and basketball are naturally larger than for table tennis, despite the country’s extraordinary performance in the latter,” Xiao Huanyu, dean of the School of Sports and Humanities at the Shanghai University of Sports, told the Global Times.

“The government wishes to develop a healthy sports industry to alleviate some games’ dependence on State funds. It is also eyeing to reform the ‘whole nation’ system, although it cannot give it up just yet,” Xiao said.

Under China’s “whole nation” system, talented children will be enrolled in State-funded special academies to prepare them for international competitions from a very early age. The system has been criticized in the past decade, as some consider the program too costly and that the money would be better spent on promoting sports to the general public.

The country’s General Administration of Sports was given a budget of around 3.24 billion yuan ($500 million) for 2016, according to the administration’s official website.

Last year, it said the central government will no longer reward provincial governments or officials for gold medals won by their representatives at the Olympics.

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