|Yao Ming and boy from quake zone lead Team China into opening ceremony(08/08/08)|
BEIJING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Led by NBA star Yao Ming and Lin Hao, a primary school student from the quake-affected Sichuan province, the Chinese delegation paraded into the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on Friday night.
The 9-year-old Lin walked ahead of the 1,099-member delegation, side by side with the 7-foot-6 basketballer, who carried the Chinese national flag.
Team China, which includes 639 athletes and has an average age of 24.4, will compete in all 28 sports.
Lin is a second-grader at the Yuzixi Primary School in Yingxiu Town, Wenchuan County. Wenchuan was the epicenter of a devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 that killed over 69,000 people.
Sharpshooter Tan Zongliang, 37, is one of the three Chinese athletes making their fourth Olympic trip. The other two are basketballer Li Nan and Guo Jingjing, two time Olympic champion on women's springboard.
While 469 are making their Olympic debuts, 37 took part in the Sydney Games in 2000 and 165 were in Athens four years ago.
The Chinese delegation also includes 42 ethnic athletes over 18 sports.
The delegation included 38 foreign coaches including men's basketball manager Jonas Kazlauskas of Lithuania.
The first-time Olympic host has had very impressive performance in the last few Games. After Xu Haifeng shot down China's first ever Olympic gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, China has step by step become a world sports powerhouse.
Chinese athletes finished with 32 gold medals at the 2004 Athens Games, second only to 36 claimed by the United States.
Expectations are high that China will improve on that tally on home soil. However, Chinese sports officials have played down hopes of overtaking the United States in the medal table.
"The United States and Russia are still the strongest powers in world sports, our goal is to finish on top of the 'second group' at the Beijing Games," said Cui Dalin, China's deputy chef-de-mission.