Olympics-China send largest ever Winter Games team to Vancouver

BEIJING Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:30am EST

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BEIJING Jan 28 (Reuters) - China will send its largest ever Winter Olympic delegation to Vancouver for next month's Games although they have modest expectations compared to their all-conquering Summer counterparts.

Both gold medallists from Turin four years ago, women's short track speed skater Wang Meng and men's freestyle skier Han Xiaopeng, have recovered from injuries to take their places among the 91 Chinese competitors for the Feb. 12-28 Games.

China topped the medals table with 51 golds at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, but the country is much weaker in winter sports and officials have targeted just matching their haul of two golds, four silvers and five bronzes from Turin.

"We started taking part in winter sports much later and we face great obstacles ... generally speaking we are below the level of the summer sports," Zhao Yinggang, secretary general of the delegation, told a news conference on Thursday.

"We are working hard on narrowing the gap between China's winter and summer sports."

"We should win no fewer medal than last Games, and try to improve from last time," added Zhao, who will be one of 91 officials and coaches accompanying the athletes.

Han will lead a strong Chinese challenge in both men's and women's freestyle skiing aerials, while Wang, three strong figure skating pairs teams, women's snowboarders and the women's curling team are all strong medal hopes.

"We hope our performance at the Winter Olympics will attract the attention and support of the Chinese people and increase participation in winter sports," said Zhao.

Zhao said the state system was a key to developing winter sports, as it had done so succesfully for Summer Olympic disciplines.

"Thanks to the state system, China's competitive sports have enjoyed great development, particularly at the Beijing Olympic Games," he said.

"Winter sports, which are part of China's Olympic strategy, have to use the advantages of such a system to improve our work."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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