Boy from quake-hit zone leads Chinese contingent into arena

August 8th, 2008 - 10:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 8 (Xinhua) Lin Hao, a primary school student from the quake-affected Sichuan province and Chinese basketball star Yao Ming led the Chinese contingent as it paraded into the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games Friday night. Nine-year-old Lin walked ahead of the 1,099-member delegation, side by side with the 7-foot-6 basketball player, who carried the Chinese national flag.

Team China, which includes 639 athletes and has an average age of 24.4 years, will compete in all 28 sports.

Lin is a second-grader at the Yuzixi Primary School in Yingxiu Town, Wenchuan County. Wenchuan was the epicentre of a devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 that killed over 69,000 people.

Sharpshooter Tan Zongliang, 37, is one of the three Chinese athletes making their fourth Olympic trip. The other two are basketballer Li Nan and Guo Jingjing, two time Olympic champion on women’s springboard.

While 469 are making their Olympic debut, 37 took part in the Sydney Games in 2000 and 165 were in Athens four years ago.

The Chinese delegation also includes 42 ethnic athletes over 18 sports.

The delegation included 38 foreign coaches including men’s basketball manager Jonas Kazlauskas of Lithuania.

The first-time Olympic host has a record of impressive performances in the last few Games. After Xu Haifeng received China’s first Olympic gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, China has gradually became a world sports powerhouse.

Chinese athletes finished with 32 gold medals at the 2004 Athens Games, second only to the 36 claimed by the US.

Expectations are high that China will improve on that tally on home soil. However, Chinese sports officials have played down hopes of overtaking the US in the medals table.

“The US and Russia are still the strongest powers in world sports, our goal is to finish on top of the ’second group’ at the Beijing Games,” said Cui Dalin, China’s deputy chef-de-mission.

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