Chinese cyclists eye gold in Olympics

July 21st, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

By Liu Ning
Beijing, July 21 (Xinhua) With only 18 days to go for the Beijing Olympics, Chinese cyclists vow to make their Olympic gold medal dream come true on home soil. Eight years ago in Sydney, Jiang Cuihua won China a bronze medal. Four years ago in Athens, Jiang Yonghua took a silver. All coming closer to the top honour, yet they all failed to make the breakthrough.

“After Athens, we made impressive progress in several events, such as women’s mountain bike, women’s road race and men’s team pursuit on the track. Now we have more confidence in winning an Olympic gold,” said Han Cuiling, vice secretary general of the Chinese Cycling Association.

According to Han, China has been pinning its golden dream on women’s mountain bike and women individual pursuit.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) announced in June 2006 that the women’s 500m time trial would be replaced by bicycle motor cross (BMX) in the Beijing Olympics. The move is a hefty blow to the Olympic gold medal dream of Chinese cyclists as their previous two Olympic medals all came from the time trial event.

“Two years ago after UCI made the decision, we adjusted our plan to concentrate on women’s individual pursuit and mountain bike,” Han said.

“Now we have Guo Shuang in the women’s individual pursuit and Ren Chengyuan, Liu Ying in women’s mountain bike, all have the ability to take the gold in the Olympics,” added Han.

Tipped as a gold medal hopeful in the 2008 Olympic Games, Guo had been sent to Switzerland for training.

Under the guidance of her Swiss coach, Guo made significant progress in 2005 and 2006, collecting two national titles in half a year and winning the Asiad gold in Doha.

However, Guo’s chance to win an Olympic gold looked dim after she failed to take a medal during the past 14 months in the international arena and only settled for the fourth place in the Manchester world track championship in March.

Competing against British legend Victoria Pendeton, rising star Rebecca Romero and American speed specialist Jennie Reed, winning a gold for Guo has became a mission impossible.

Thus, China’s first cycling gold looks more likely to come from women’s mountain bike with Ren Chengyuan and Liu Ying as hopefuls.

Ren won China’s first ever World Cup Series title in Switzerland last year and finished runner-up at the under-23 event of the World Championships in England.

“I am not too shy to say my goal is to win the gold medal,” Ren said. “I didn’t even think about competing in the Olympics three or four years ago, but all of a sudden people are telling me that I’m a gold-medal contender. It’s amazing.”

She was joined by teammate Liu Ying, who pocketed another World Cup title in Slovenia and won the “Good Luck Beijing” International Invitational on the Olympic track.

The pair now sit in the third and fourth on the UCI world rankings and they put China top of the national rankings for the first time after the 2007 season.

In the Laoshan Olympic course, the Chinese pair will face ferocious challenges from Russian veteran Irina Kalentieva, German Sabine Spitz and Canadian Marie-Helene Premont.

As for the road race, China also has the chance to win a medal with three women cyclists already booking their berths for the Olympics.

Under the guidance of Chinese Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang, Chinese women cyclists shone in the international competitions, taking their team to the top 13 in the UCI ranking.

“I always stress team work, and during the past one year, the number of international competitions we participated (in) are more than three times (than) two years ago. We have more experience competing with top level cyclists, which gave us more confidence to win something in the Olympics,” Shen said.

With good cooperation and endurance, Li Meifang, Meng Lang, Gao Min will fight hard to make history for the Chinese road cyclists.

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