Dominant China put Asia on top of the world at the Beijing Olympics, but the pressure is on as its team attempts to repeat the feat away from home.
When London 2012 gets into full swing on Saturday, China will be the nation to beat, after it overhauled the United States at the summit of the medals table for the first time.
China was aided by home advantage, massive funding and a giant team in 2008, but it now faces the challenge of staying ahead of the pack in very different conditions on foreign soil.
They highlighted a positive Games for Asia-Pacific countries, with Australia, South Korea and Japan also in the top 10, and India winning its first ever individual gold medal.
This year, China has slashed its team to 396, down from 639 in Beijing. The team is now preparing at various venues around Europe.
According to the China Daily, 110-meter hurdles star Liu Xiang was forced to leave Britain and train in Germany this month, after a spell of cold, wet weather.
“Other Chinese teams have also chosen to move their base thanks to London’s cold weather, so Liu Xiang is not the only one,” Liu’s coach Sun Haiping was quoted as saying.
There are also concerns over China’s gymnasts after former world and Olympic champion Teng Haibin hurt his forearm while training in Northern Ireland, following an earlier injury to team captain Chen Yibing.
“Once one bad thing happens, many other things become more difficult,” head coach Huang Yubin said in the China Daily. “Now, I’m very worried about the Games.”
However, other competitors seem happy with their preparations and it would be a major surprise if China did not at least finish in the top two for the third consecutive time.
Liu is second fastest in the world over 110-meter hurdles this year, putting him in the frame to challenge for gold eight years after his victory in Athens.
China is likely to win all four table tennis gold medals, and has a strong chance of sweeping the eight diving categories, alongside the badminton titles. The team’s athletes are also world-beaters in weightlifting and shooting.
But China is also expected to star in the pool—led by distance specialist Sun Yang—as it looks to make its mark in more popular, mainstream sports such tennis, where Li Na is a women’s medal hope.
Australia is hoping its swimmers, spearheaded by sprint sensation James Magnussen, and cyclists can put its team back in the top five after it dropped two places to sixth in Beijing.
Japan is targeting a record haul of more than 16 gold medals to boost its bid to host the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Gymnast Kohei Uchimura is unbeaten since his all-round silver at Beijing, Kosuke Kitajima is seeking a third straight men’s 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke double, and Japan’s “Nadeshiko” are the reigning women’s world football champions.
South Korea has a more modest goal of 10 gold medals and a top-10 finish, while India has high hopes of making further progress after shooter Abhinav Bindra’s breakthrough in winning the country’s first individual gold in 2008.