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Olympic predictions

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James Reynolds | 10:16 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008

Exactly one week to go before the Games begin.

So, it's prediction time. I've come up with four questions which may define whether or not the Games are a triumph for China.

1) Will China win more gold medals than any other country?

One research team from Sheffield Hallam University predicts that it may happen. The team predicts that China will win 46 golds (more than the 32 it won in Athens - the USA came first with 35).

Chinese volleyball team in Athens 2004But China's not so sure. Over the last year or so, I've been to a number of press conferences in which Chinese sporting officials have played down their gold medal expectations - pointing out at tremendous length how weak the Chinese team is in certain sports, and how much better the Americans, the Australians, and the Russians are all round. (It reminds me a bit of the brainy kid at school who always goes around saying how badly he/she'll do at end-of-year exams and then goes on to get all the best marks.)

China's most recent prediction is that it hopes to do better than it did in Athens.

2) Will Liu Xiang win the 110m hurdles?

Liu XiangI wrote recently that if Liu Xiang won the hurdles in Beijing (as he did in Athens) he could probably get the country renamed after him. A gold for Liu in the 110mh matters more to China than a gold in any other event.

This is what Liu's coach recently told a newspaper: "Officials from the State General Administration of Sport once told us that if Liu cannot win another gold medal in Beijing, all of his previous achievements will become meaningless."

So, no pressure then.

The problem for Liu is that he's no longer the world's fastest hurdler. Earlier this season, the Cuban athlete Dayron Robles broke Liu's world record.

And, just to make it even more nerve-wracking for China, Liu's coach has just said that Liu has an ankle injury and that "his current condition isn't good."

3) Will air pollution force some events to be postponed?

The International Olympic Committee says that it'll monitor air quality every day during the Games - and if the air's bad, it'll postpone endurance events.

BeijingChina says that it's confident that its emergency air quality measures will clear the air in time for the Games. We've been testing the air ourselves over the last few weeks. We've found that the levels of airborne particles (PM10) have often been well above the maximum targets set by the World Health Organisation. But, as I write this entry, the sky outside is blue, and the pollution readings are low (helped by rain on Thursday). If the weather stays like this, Olympic events will go ahead as scheduled.

4) Will there be any protests inside Olympic venues?

The Olympic Charter makes it clear that any kind of demonstration inside Olympic areas is banned. The Chinese government plans to enforce this rule to the letter.

But what if someone manages to smuggle a banner into a stadium? Or what if an athlete decides to make a protest?

For China, the Beijing Olympics will be a success - even a triumph - if the answers to these four questions are yes, yes, no, no.

I'm keen to get your predictions...

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