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BEIJING - China has spent the last two years downplaying its chances of leapfrogging the Americans at the top of the Olympic medals table in Beijing, but the race for global sporting supremacy still looks like being a close one.
China produced its best gold medal tally since its 1984 return to the Summer Games to finish second (32) behind the United States (36) at the last Olympics in Athens in 2004.
The boost from playing host this year plus the investment in elite sports, particularly for the Beijing Games, led to an expectation that China could supplant the Americans, who have ruled the roost since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But Chinese sporting officials, perhaps in an attempt to reduce the pressure on their athletes, have tried to dampen expectations.
"Basically we are not yet a strong nation in sport, we must be practical and realistic. We've got only Liu Xiang for athletics and I don't see much hope in swimming," deputy sports minister Cui Dalin said in March. - Reuters