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Sunday, October 01, 2000, updated at 19:21(GMT+8)

China's Long March Up the Olympic Medal Table

China's sporting dragon roared through the Sydney Olympics with a glut of gold medals, world records - and not the merest whiff of a drug scandal.

A glittering record haul of 28 gold, 16 silver and 15 bronze medals swept the Chinese into third place in the overall medal table, their best finish in Olympic history.

"Our athletes showed China is a sports-loving country at the Sydney Olympics. We had hoped for 15 or 16 medals but we never dreamed of this," said China official Li Furong.

"It is a great achievement and all our athletes should feel proud," he added.

Importantly for Beijing's 2008 Olympic bid, China's athletes also left Sydney untainted by any of the drug scandals which dogged the 16-day sports extravaganza.

China's gold medal rush was due in part by the introduction of women's weightlifting in the Olympics for the first time.

All four of China's women lifters struck gold, Ding Meiyuan earning the accolade of "strongest woman in the world" with her victory in the super-heavyweight class.

China's gold tally would almost certainly have been higher had more of their lifters been allowed to compete in the games.

Olympic rules restricted the number of lifters for each country to four, forcing China to leave behind several world champions and record holders.

In racquet sports - tennis aside - China reigned supreme, greedily snapping up every gold on offer in the men's and women's table tennis and bagging four out of five golds in badminton.

"China has shown we have the players and the talent to be a force in badminton for many years," China's badminton coach Li Yongbo said, in an ominous warning to their rivals.

China had plenty of joy in the diving pool, golden girl Fu Mingxia the star with a brilliant fourth gold medal in the springboard event.

Fu's "fab-four" from Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney equalled the record for the most number of diving medals achieved at the games.

"It has been a very good Olympics for me and for China. I'm really happy that our country has done so well," Fu said.

The Sydney Olympics also saw China's long wait for a team gold come to an end when their men took top prize in the gymnastics. Other golds came in judo and shooting.

But while China celebrated, Hong Kong left Sydney empty-handed.

Their sole medal hope - 1996 windsurfing gold medallist Lee Lai-shan - bombed out in her attempt to recapture her title.

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China's sporting dragon roared through the Sydney Olympics with a glut of gold medals, world records - and not the merest whiff of a drug scandal.

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