LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The United States, long an Olympic medal machine, looks toward the London Games with a host of other nations – China chief among them – poised to challenge US sporting might.
Gone are the days when US Olympic Committee officials conﬁdently predicted a medals tally, with Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of sport performance vowing only that the USA would be at – or near – the top.
“I can’t tell you where the number is going to end up,’’ Ashley said. “We’re going into this to be the best-prepared team we possibly can be. We want to go in and win the medal count, that’s our objective.
“What the number is, I honestly can’t tell you.’’ China emerged as a sports superpower at the Beijing Games four years ago. While the United States won the most total medals with 110, China’s 100 medals included 51 golds to the USA’s 36.
USOC chairman Larry Probst said he had “chastised’’ London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe after Coe predicted China would top the table in 2012.
“Hopefully, we can prove him wrong,’’ Probst said.
Even as USOC officials hemmed and hawed about the numbers, US athletes gave every indication they would walk with their usual swagger into London.
“The US will always be favorites,’’ women’s footballer Lauren Cheney said. “I look at the USA, not just soccer, I look at Team USA from track, gymnastics from anything. You see the American ﬂag I feel like you get labeled a favorite.
“A target is always going to be on our backs. We do embrace it.’’
However, even in events in which the US traditionally excells the gap has narrowed.
“One bad night, there goes the gold medal,’’ said women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.
The USA’s 36 golds in Beijing were one more than in Athens, but behind their totals of 2000, 1996 and 1992.
Men’s and women’s basketball remain strong gold possibilities for the US – despite a raft of injuries that has depleted the ranks of NBA stars making the trip to London.