US heading for win over China in both medals races

With a surge of medals in track and field, the United States has

sprinted ahead of China and is poised to finish atop the medals

table at the London Olympics – maybe with the most golds ever

collected by the Americans on foreign soil.

Heading into the final weekend of competition, the U.S. leads

both the gold and overall medals races after trailing the Chinese

most of the games.

The Americans pulled further ahead Friday. At the end of the

day’s events, the U.S. led China 94 to 81 in total medals and 41 to

37 in golds.

Bill Mallon, a veteran American medals prognosticator, believes

the U.S. will win the overall race by 12 to 15 medals and the gold

count by three to five.

Four more golds would equal the highest U.S. total on foreign

territory in Olympic history – 45 at both the 1968 Mexico City

Games and the 1924 Paris Games.

The gold haul in London is already the best for the United

States since it won 44 in 1996 in Atlanta. Its highest gold count

was 83 at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by the

Soviet Union.

The late U.S. charge in London has been spurred by the track and

field team, with 26 medals, including eight golds, through

Friday.

The Americans picked up four medals Thursday night with 1-2

finishes by Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee in the decathlon and by

Christian Taylor and Will Claye in the triple jump. They grabbed

two more Friday night – gold in the women’s 4×100-meter relay and

silver in the men’s 4×400 relay.

Away from the track, wrestler Jordan Burroughs won gold in the

men’s 74-kilogram freestyle.

The success could validate the projection of 30 medals by USA

Track & Field, the national governing body for the sport, which

had been widely maligned as too ambitious.

With two more relays and a few other chances coming up, the

United States could exceed 30 medals – even after being shut out in

the men’s 200 and 400 meters, two events where the Americans

usually excel.

”A lot of people thought 30 medals was crazy,” said Steve

Roush, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s former chief of sports

performance, who served on USA Track & Field’s ”Project 30”

panel.

He added: ”It was the big question mark coming in. It turns out

we are going to be right there. If there is a surprise, it’s just

how well the U.S. has done in track and field.”

Though closely tracked by Olympic teams, fans and the media, the

medals race is an unofficial competition. The International Olympic

Committee doesn’t even recognize the medal count.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has also been reluctant to talk up

the medals chase – until the end of the games, anyway. It stresses

that its job is to enable as many Americans as possible to stand on

the podium and represent the country.

”We are fortunate to have had success in both team and

individual sports,” spokesman Patrick Sandusky said. ”The Olympic

Games is a competition between athletes, not nations. With that

said, we are very proud of our American athletes in London.”

China beat the U.S. in gold medals, 51 to 36, on home soil at

the 2008 Beijing Games, while the Americans prevailed 110 to 100

overall.

Many thought China would sweep both lists in London. And the

Chinese started strong, racking up medals in their traditional

sports of badminton, table tennis and diving. But medal chances are

drying up in the final days, and China can’t compete with the U.S.

in track and field.

”China’s big challenge is in swimming and track and field,”

Roush said. ”There are so many medals at stake.”

This is still China’s best gold medal showing outside Beijing,

better than the 32 it collected at the 2004 Athens Games. But there

is a clear sense of disappointment back home.

The Communist Party’s official Guangming Daily newspaper

complained of unfair judging. Several papers cited the result in

the men’s gymnastics rings event, in which Chen Yibing settled for

silver behind Brazil’s Arthur Zanetti.

”We need to shout out loud: London Olympics, under the Olympic

rings, please view all participants equally,” the paper said.

In interviews with Chinese newspapers, the country’s deputy

sports minister, Cai Zhenhua, has also accused judges of

discriminating against Chinese athletes.

”We need to solve the problem now or risk more judges adopting

a biased view,” Cai said.

Britain, meanwhile, is assured of finishing third in gold

medals, benefiting from a home-country boost that has produced its

best medal performance in more than a century – 25 golds and 57

overall.

Not since the 1908 London Olympics has Britain racked up medals

at this pace. Back then, only 22 nations showed up, compared with

204 today.

Britain, heavily promoting its athletes as Team GB, has excelled

particularly in rowing and track cycling, thanks in large part to

generous funding from the national lottery and the

government-backed U.K. Sport body. U.K. Sport allocated $470

million for sports federations and athletes ahead of the London

Games.

”GB cycling is a model of what can be done, and the rowing is

phenomenal,” Roush said. ”It’s been a combination of home-field

advantage and U.K. Sport support.”

Britain’s rise has come at the expense of once-powerful Russia,

which will finish out of the top three in golds for the first time

since before the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics.

In 1912, the Russian team had no golds and five total. The

Soviet Union began competing at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Since

then, the Soviet or Russian team has finished in the top three in

golds every time – until now.

The Russians had only 15 golds through Friday, compared with 23

in Beijing. They have won plenty of silver and bronze and are third

in the overall count with 62, but that’s not good enough for a

country that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

”The Russians are rebuilding,” Roush said. ”The old Soviet

system produced such strong talent and coaches, but the coaches and

athletes are starting to retire.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been South Korea. The country

of 50 million people – roughly the population of California,

Washington and Oregon put together – has charged into fourth place

with 13 golds, asserting itself as an Asian power.

The South Koreans have invested heavily in Olympic sports,

coaches and training and will do even more as they prepare to host

the 2018 Winter Games in the city of Pyeongchang.

Japan has performed strongly, with 35 medals, but has failed to

turn them into gold, picking up only five.

Australia and Germany have been among the biggest

disappointments. The Australians had hoped to finish in the top

five in both golds and total medals, but are lagging that pace with

only seven and 31. Germany, which had a target of 28 golds and 86

medals, has only 10 golds and 42 total.

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing

contributed to this report.

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