With a week still to go at the Beijing Olympics, China on Sunday surpassed its best-ever gold medal haul in Athens, reaching a total of 35 and making the home team look unstoppable.
A lopsided victory by China’s usually dominant women’s table tennis team over Singapore put China over the top, bringing its 33rd gold, one more than at the 2004 games. Then in quick succession, China reached numbers 34 and 35, with Lin Dan winning the men’s singles in badminton and diving champion Guo Jingjing taking the 3-meter springboard. All told, China took 8 golds on Sunday.
“China wildly got 8 gold medals in a day,” the web site of state broadcaster China National Radio said late Sunday. “A new China day was born. It’s not just a daily record high but China’s total of golds surpasses Sydney and Athens. A magnificent China day.”
While the United States still led the overall medals table with 65 total to China’s 61, the 35 golds were 16 more than the U.S. — a margin that may be difficult to erode as the games enter their last seven days. Track and field, events the U.S. often excels in, dominate the final week.
The Chinese Olympic Committee and team officials did not immediately comment on the new team record. Telephone calls to the committee’s rang unanswered late Sunday. The committee and team officials have sought for months to temper expectations for a Chinese blowout, both out of fear of disappointing the Chinese public and to avoid appearing like a bad Olympics host.
But China’s runaway lead defied most predictions in the months leading up to the games, which in some cases had China modestly outpacing the United States; the U.S. led the gold medals count in Athens with 36 and by Sunday’s end in Beijing had 19. The masterful Chinese performance comes as a methodical 8-year-old program to broaden China’s Olympic power beyond table tennis, diving and traditional strengths, known as Project 119, gathered critical mass.
Over the past week, China has won its first ever gold in archery, its first fencing gold in 24 years and, on Sunday, its first-ever rowing gold. “I’m extremely happy and proud today because we have made a breakthrough in the rowing history of China,” said Jin Ziwei, a member of China’s winning women’s quadruple sculls crew.
Home teams have often had an advantage at Olympics. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the United States won 44 golds. Beyond that China could be on track for one of the highest gold medal runs in recent decades, with the 55 gold mark set by the then-Soviet Union at 1988 in Seoul in reach. Tallies have been higher, but only at the Olympics in 1980 in Moscow, which the U.S. boycotted, and 1984 in Los Angeles, which the Soviet Union shunned.
China has led the gold medal count since the first day, and so far, Chinese sports officials have avoided crowing about the triumphs. “The Chinese delegation must remain clear-headed because according to the competition schedule most of the team’s events are in the first half” of the Olympics, team deputy head Cui Dalin told reporters Sunday morning, when China was leading with only 27 golds. “This is the main reason that China has been leading the gold medal count.”
If officials were reluctant to make predictions, Chinese sports fans on the Internet hailed the victory and thought a U.S. comeback unlikely. Some noted that the U.S. was unlikely to pick up more than 10 golds in track and field, though it may still win in overall number of medals.