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Top three the goal for China

Beijing Games' No 1 gold winner lowers sights for London 2012

SHANGHAI - After dominating the 2008 Beijing Olympics with 51 gold medals in front of a raucous home crowd, China has introduced innovative training programs so it can continue that momentum at next year's London Olympic Games.

Despite being without the decisive home advantage in 2012, China's sports governing body has remained calm about the foreseeable slump in the team's medal tally and is calling for improved training methods to secure at least a top-three finish in London.

"Our main opponents on the world stage, the United States and Russia, have shown increasing competitiveness at major events over the past two years. We are facing a tough challenge to keep on top in London," the Xinhua agency quoted Liu Peng, China's sports minister, as saying in a recent report.

"To keep pace with them, we have to update our traditional training system, including the ideals, the methods and the technical support. We need to add more innovation to our preparations for next year, especially in our leading events," said Liu, who will attend the London Olympic Games' one-year countdown ceremony on Wednesday.

China's traditionally strong events include table tennis, badminton and diving, said Liu, and he expects them to be at the forefront of China's goldrush in London.

Sealing a five-title sweep at this year's Rotterdam World Championships, the Chinese table tennis squad has filled its quota of entries for the Games - and should dominate the tables again.

Former Olympic champion and current men's team coach Liu Guoliang said the change to the number of entrants per team would be a challenge, but was still aiming for a "gold sweep".

Top three the goal for China

Meanwhile, the badminton team, which ramped up its training after a humiliating loss to South Korea at last year's Uber Cup, claimed a fourth straight Sudirman Cup, the mixed team world championship, in May in Shandong province and is expected to deliver at least four gold medals.

After wrapping up all 10 gold medals at the Shanghai World Championships, the Chinese diving "dream team" sees no barrier to dominating the London pool.

"Our rivals have become stronger in technique. But, if we can toughen up mentally, we will still be unbeatable," said team leader Zhou Jihong after the Shanghai event.

In track and field, China has already qualified 31 athletes for the Games.

Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang's new starting technique helped him edge out American star, David Oliver, in a season-best 13.07 seconds at the Diamond League Shanghai stop in May and rebooted his desire for a podium finish in London.

In other events, the national shooting team has booked 20 tickets to the Olympics and the weightlifting squad will likely clinch its full allocation at this November's worlds after claiming 18 gold medals out of 24 at the Asian Championships in April.

However, the "big three bal" games' lackluster form is likely to drag down the nation's hopes of being regarded as an all-round sporting power-house.

The men's Olympic soccer team failed to qualify for London after losing to Oman at the preliminary stage, while the women will battle against four tough opponents, including Australia and newly-crowned world champion Japan, for one of two Asian spots.

The once supreme Chinese women's volleyball squad will have to perform well at September's Asian Championships and November's World Cup to earn a direct pass to London, while the sport's chief, Xu Li, said the men's side's chance of making the trip "only exists on paper".

The prospects are slightly brighter for the basketball teams as long as they grab their respective Asian Championship titles this summer and seal direct berths.

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