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Yao winning Beijing fitness race
China's best-known sportsman is on target to compete at his home Olympic Games.
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2008 10:53 GMT
NBA star Yao Ming says he is still a 50-50 chance of playing at the Beijing Games [GALLO/GETTY]

Yao Ming, China basketball star, aims to be back on court in mid-July as he continues his fitness race to lead the host nation's basketball team at the Beijing Olympics.

The 2.28m Houston Rockets center returned from the United States on Wednesday, nearly four months after an operation on a stress fracture in his left foot and 44 days before the start of the August 8 to 24 Games.

"I had a physical in Houston on Monday," Yao told a news conference.

"My fracture is 80 per cent healed, which is normal after four months treatment. The other 20 per cent will take a year.

"The doctor suggested I start playing competitively in mid-July... Nobody would want to miss the Beijing Olympics and I won't let you down."

The 27-year-old will rejoin the China squad for training on Friday but he was not certain he would be ready to play in the Stankovic Cup warm-up tournament in Hangzhou from July 17 to 20.

"It's 50-50 whether I'll play, I'm not sure," Yao said.

"I feel I am recovering well, though it's still difficult when I'm playing one-on-one."

Yao, China's best-known sportsman and best-paid entertainer, is under huge pressure to excel at the Games despite being the member of a Chinese team with modest medal hopes.

Pressure and glory

"I have done everything I can for the Olympic Games, it is the most magnificent opportunity in my life," the NBA star said.

"But opportunities always bring pressure. I have two challenges, pressure and glory. You can't have one without the other."

However, Yao remains realistic about 11th-ranked China's prospects of winning a medal in Beijing, as they must get past the heavily favoured United States and world number three Spain in their six-team first round pool.

"The US and Spain are much stronger than us," he said.

"We probably won't beat them so we've got to at least beat Angola and one of the other European teams to get to the last eight."

Yao's profile and enthusiasm for the Olympics make him a strong favourite to perform the prestigious role of lighting the cauldron at the Beijing Games opening ceremony, especially after he carried the Chinese flag at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"I haven't got any idea about that but I haven't been a torchbearer so far," Yao said.

Source:
Agencies
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