BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top diplomat told the country's Olympic athletes to behave in a "modest and unassuming" way in London, state media reported on Friday, as the country tries to manage expectations for a team which topped the medals table in Beijing in 2008.
By the time the Beijing Games closed on August 24 2008, China had earned 51 golds, leapfrogging the United States' 36 golds and topping the medals table for the first time.
With all eyes on whether China will be able to repeat that feat in London, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, China's top diplomat and the government's representative to the opening ceremony, sought to temper emotions.
"We are still a developing country and should keep a modest and prudent attitude even though China is becoming more and more globally influential," the official Xinhua news agency cited Dai as telling the Chinese team in London. � "We are considered a big sporting country but we are still not a sporting giant. There are still gaps between China and global sports giants in many aspects," he added.
"We must be modest and unassuming in learning from other countries and continue to raise our athletic abilities."
Chinese officials have been keen to put the London Games into perspective, pointing out they will not have home advantage in Britain, will have to deal with different food and will be fielding some new and untested faces.
Still, China has not slackened off in its Olympics medals quest. Topping the table in Beijing was accompanied by a wave of national pride, the culmination of China's "100 year dream" to host the world's most prestigious sports event.
Dai reminded the Chinese team the eyes of China's 1.3 billion people would be watching - as would the ruling Communist Party, which has cultivated a Soviet-style sports system which still generally produces the country's top athletes.
"I hope everyone works hard ... to present a gift for the 18th Party Congress this year," Dai added, referring to a key meeting later this year which will usher in a generational leadership change. (Reporting by Sabrina Mao and Ben Blanchard, Editing by Matt Falloon)