8/8/08 at 8:00 PM
The medal count matters to China. After netting 32 golds in 2004, just four behind the United States, it's headed for a blowout now. Economist Dan Johnson, whose forecasts have a 94 percent accuracy over the past four Games, predicts 44 golds for China, 33 for the United States. Some factors are universal—home teams typically surge, and nations with autocratic regimes average 18 more medals than democracies. But one is specific to China: after disappointing 2000 results in major sports, Beijing launched Project 119, a training campaign to make itself competitive in all 119 (now 122) events, from the 100-meter dash to kayaking. With 88 of the golds this year coming in swimming and track and field, events in which China has lagged in the past, this year could mark a dramatic turning point—or an even more colossal comedown.