No bold predictions for US medal tally

Aug. 06, 2008, 11:25 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING(AP) Four years ago, American officials had a goal of 100 medals - and U.S. athletes exceeded it.

No bold predictions this time around. Peter Ueberroth is even using the U-word.

``We're not used to being an underdog,'' said Ueberroth, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

USOC officials are trying to manage expectations as the Americans prepare to face a formidable Chinese team that is an emerging Olympic power. China won 32 gold medals in 2004, four fewer than the U.S.

Months before the Athens Games, USOC chief executive Jim Scherr set a goal of 100 total medals for the Americans. The U.S. reached that goal, but the outlook is a lot more modest this year.

``There is no such number,'' said Steve Roush, chief of sport performance for the USOC. ``Four years is a long time between Athens and Beijing. ... As Peter alluded to, the Chinese have become much stronger than in 2004.''

The hosts have downplayed their chances, but Ueberroth said two years ago that China should be favored to win the most medals overall and the most gold at the Beijing Olympics. On Wednesday, Roush brought another country into the discussion.

``We really look at this as a three-country race with China leading the way between Russia, the U.S. and China. It's going to be a matter of what happens every day of the games.''

The race begins Saturday. China's Du Li will try to defend her title in the 10-meter air rifle, while some of the top American fencers compete in the women's saber tournament.

``We have a strong team here as well,'' Scherr said, as if anyone had forgotten. ``We make no predictions on whether we'll be first or second or third in the medal count.''

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OPENING CEREMONY: Rain or shine, the opening ceremony will go on.

Light showers are a possibility for the opening ceremony. However, the man heading the 3-1/2 spectacular says he's prepared.

``In the entire process of preparing the opening ceremony we have paid close attention to the possibility of rain,'' said Zhang Heping, director of the opening and closing ceremonies. ``Also, we have made very many contingency plans to deal with that possibility. If there is drizzle, that won't have any major impact on the opening ceremony. If it is heavier we may curtail some of the performances, we might reduce some of the aerial performances.''

Asked about the identity of the final torchbearer, Zhang offered little.

``This will always be the most secretive part and this will be revealed to the world only at the last moment.'' Zhang said.

Basketball star Yao Ming is most often mentioned as the likely candidates, as is defending Olympic champion Liu Xiang.

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MEDIA FREEDOMS: Broadcasters have been battling for months with Chinese authorities over the freedom of TV crews to move around Beijing and report live. They have also attempted to restrict where satellite trucks can go, and who can be interviewed.

The issue remains unsettled with the games just hours away.

Beijing municipal officials offered a directive the other day, saying reporters need to submit a request 24 hours beforehand if they want to do interviews on Tiananmen Square. Chinese officials are trying to keep reporters off Tiananmen, which was the site of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

``First of all, during the Olympic Games, Tiananmen Square will hold major cultural events and a lot of crowds will be there to watch the performances,'' said Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee. ``You have also noticed there are a lot of flowers there. If the foreign journalists need to go there to cover we want them to call beforehand to make reservations.''

Several weeks ago, games organizers promised rights-holding broadcasters like NBC six hours of live coverage daily on Tiananmen. However, live interviews are not allowed. Several right-holding broadcasters this week confirmed they have had to cancel transmissions from Tiananmen.

Chinese officials guaranteed free press coverage seven years ago in the winning the bid. Since then they have backtracked on TV freedoms and open Internet access. Chinese officials have unblocked some Internet sites this week for foreign journalists working at the main press center. However, many sites the Chinese government does not like remain censored.

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FLAG FOR NOWITZKI: Dirk Nowitzki will carry the German flag at the opening ceremony. The 30-year-old Dallas Mavericks star leads Germany's basketball team, which qualified for the games after missing out the past two times.

``It has for years been a dream for Dirk Nowitzki to be at the Olympics,'' senior German Olympic official Michael Vesper said in a statement. He said the star offers ``a great example for young sportspeople.''

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MEXICAN DARLING: The youngest member of Mexico's diving team doesn't have the pressure of his older teammates to win a medal in Beijing. He can just relax and have some fun.

At 16, German Sanchez is the Mexican team little darling. He qualified for the Olympics in February when he was just 15.

``I don't have any pressure (to win), I came to enjoy this and learn from the opportunity to be in the Games,'' said Sanchez on Wednesday after a practice at the Water Cube.

His older teammates Paola Espinosa and Rommel Pacheco are two of the top-medal contenders from Mexico.

Sanchez will compete in the 10 meter platform.

``We have a good diving team, but my teammates will have to do their best to get their medals,'' chuckled Sanchez.

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TV BAN: An Australian television channel was banned from official Olympic areas for a week by the IOC for breaking the rules of non-rights holders at the Beijing Games.

Channel Nine went into the swimming venue with TV equipment, which is prohibited by the International Olympic Committee. The network, which did not air any footage taken in the venue, will still be able to interview athletes as long as they are outside official areas.

The ban will end next Wednesday night.

``The IOC has taken action against what was, in our view, a serious breach of the news access rules,'' IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

Channel 7 is the official broadcaster for Australia, and that network complained to the IOC about the breach.

``They apologized to Channel 7, and they gave assurances that such breaches would not occur again,'' Davies said. ``However, as you may remember, a similar venue breach incident was also committed by a Nine network in Athens.''

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LONELY RIDE FOR CANCELLARA: Swiss time-trial world champion Fabian Cancellara will have to ride the cycling road race on his own after his only teammate's Olympics came to a sudden end.

Michael Albasini fell during training in Beijing and suffered multiple fractures of his left collarbone, the Swiss Olympic team announced.

Albasini, 27, was to be flown back to Switzerland for an operation, the Olympic committee said. It said it would not name a replacement because there was not time for a rider to acclimatize before Saturday's race.

Cancellara is scheduled to compete in the road race on the first day of Olympic competition, but he is expected to be a bigger challenger in the individual time-trial on Wednesday.

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RONALDHINO SUPPORT: - The Brazilian women's team failed to win its Olympic debut Wednesday despite the support of Ronaldinho and his teammates.

The men's team finished practice early just to be able to attend the women's match against Germany at Shenyang Olympic Stadium, which finished in a 0-0 draw.

Ronaldinho and the rest of the squad arrived just after kickoff and stayed until a couple of minutes before the match ended.

The men's team will debut against Belgium on Thursday.

Neither the men's or the women's team have won the Olympic gold in football. The men's team won the silver medal twice, in 1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul. It won the bronze in 1996 in Atlanta. The women's squad lost the Athens Games final to the United States four years ago, and finished fourth in Atlanta in 1996 and in Sydney in 2000.

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