With an eye on the Paris Olympics, China is sending 886 athletes to the upcoming Asian Games, targeting a medal-laden campaign in Hangzhou to boost its prospects next year.
Featuring a blend of youth and experience, the 1,329-member Chinese delegation for the 19th Asian Games, announced in Beijing on Tuesday, has vowed to do the host country proud at the multisport event, which opens in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Sept 23, by delivering excellent performances on and off the field.
Of the 886 athletes, 449 are men and 437 are women, with an average age of 25. Led by 36 Olympic gold medalists, the Chinese delegation will compete in 407 medal events out of the total 481 to be held in Hangzhou and five other co-host cities in the province, the General Administration of Sport announced on Tuesday.
Having topped the Asian Games medal count 10 times in a row since the 1982 edition in India, the Chinese delegation is set to go all out to extend its dominance on home soil while making the best out of the quadrennial event to facilitate its preparation for next summer's Paris Olympics.
"We hope to put up the best possible performances in front of our fans and do it in a clean and honest way with zero tolerance against doping," Gao Zhidan, minister of the sport administration, said during the delegation unveiling ceremony on Tuesday.
"Not only are we trying to finish on top of the overall medal table again, we will also approach the Asian Games as a major test ahead of the Paris Olympics to gain international experience and assess our performances against Olympic standards.
"We are also looking forward to promoting the Olympic values and the positive image of China's sports community," Gao said.
An Asian sporting powerhouse for long, China aims to deliver world-class performances in six disciplines it is exceptionally strong in — table tennis, diving, weightlifting, shooting, gymnastics and badminton — at the Hangzhou Games, where tough competitions are expected from neighbors such as Japan, South Korea and India.
Veteran gymnast Zou Jingyuan, the reigning men's Olympic and world champion in parallel bars, said the competition at the Asian Games, especially against archrival Japan, is a valuable rehearsal for Paris 2024.
"China and Japan have developed a strong rivalry in gymnastics, especially on the men's side, over the years. I hope both teams will perform to the highest possible standards to make it a real treat for the audience," said Zou, a member of China's gold-winning squad in men's team event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
"The gymnastics contest at the Asian Games already represents the highest level in the world so we take it as a serious drill for perfecting our routines for next year's Olympics," he said.
At the most recent international event, the Chinese gymnastics squad finished on top of the final standings with three gold and two silver medals at the 2022 world championships in Liverpool in November, while Japan ranked third with two gold, three silver and three bronze medals.
Tough competitions against world-class rivals in Asia are also expected in table tennis, where a surging Japanese side led by teen phenomenon Harimoto Tomokazu is expected to challenge China's authority, as well as in badminton, which has seen South Korean shuttlers overtake Chinese stars to dominate on the world stage, highlighted by South Korea's three-gold (women's single, men's doubles and mixed doubles) campaign at last month's world championships.
"The Asian Games will help examine our preparations for Paris 2024 thoroughly so that we can make timely adjustments in our tactics, talent selection and command on the front line," said Zhang Xin, secretary-general of China's Asian Games delegation.
The performance of China's collective "big-ball" teams will also be considered a defining factor for the host delegation's success in Hangzhou, especially after a series of recent setbacks in men's basketball and soccer on the world stage, Gao added.
"If we cannot deliver ideal results in the highly popular team ball sports, including basketball, soccer and volleyball, it will hardly be a success story at the Asian Games even if we win tons of medals," said Gao, the minister of the sport administration.
Outpaced and overpowered by international heavyweights, the Chinese men's basketball team finished at the 29th place, its worst ever ranking, at the just-concluded FIBA World Cup in Manila earlier this month, thus failing to qualify for the Paris Olympics.
The country's long underachieving men's soccer team triggered criticism from fans and experts alike for its sloppy play in its 1-1 draw against Malaysia in an international friendly on Saturday, casting a shadow on its prospect at the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which will kick off in November.