x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yao's return gives China medal hope

Yao Ming scared fans of China and Houston Rockets when he hobbled out of an NBA game, but he will be ready for the Olympic Games.

Yao Ming's return to the basketball court will give all of China a high in Beijing.
Yao Ming's return to the basketball court will give all of China a high in Beijing.

BEIJING // When the Chinese giant Yao Ming hobbled off court with a broken foot during an NBA Game in February, his injury triggered panic in his home country. His hopes of playing at the Beijing Olympics hung in the balance but, after surgery and six months of intensive rehab, the 2.28 metres Houston Rockets centre is fit and the fans in the host country can breathe again.

China's most popular and highest-earning sportsman, Yao carried his country's flag at the 2004 Olympics and is favourite to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Games on Aug 8. The 27-year-old's recovery from a stress fracture of his left foot also gives China, fuelled by wild support in Beijing, an outside chance of winning an Olympic medal in men's basketball for the first time. It is not the first time Yao has given his country a scare before a major tournament, having broken a bone in his left foot a few months before the 2006 world championships. He recovered and led China into the last 16 in Japan, averaging 25.3 points and nine rebounds for the tournament.

Yao carried the Chinese team to the quarter-finals of the Athens Olympics after pledging not to shave unless they reached the last eight. Although prone to injury, the six-times NBA All Star averaged 22 points and 10.8 rebounds for Houston last season before his season was cut short. Yao had screws inserted during surgery to strengthen his broken bone and sought advice from traditional Chinese medicine experts in a bid to speed his recovery.

But his immense power and leadership qualities probably will not not be enough for China to challenge for gold, with holders Argentina, world champions Spain and the United States among the favourites. Indeed, Yao has described his country's draw as the "worst imaginable". Their group includes Spain, the United States, as well as European powers Greece and Germany, and the African champions Angola.

"This is the worst draw I can ever imagine," he told the China Daily. "The other teams are very strong, but our goal stays the same. "We lost to t Angola in Hangzhou but we were not in our best shape last week. "Their players are not very competitive, and I don't think they are able to pose any real threat at the Games. "We are not afraid of Germany either." * Reuters