BEIJING - The fanfare ahead of next month's Beijing's Winter Olympics is building in China but President Xi Jinping appeared to play down focus on the medals table.
"I don't care how many gold medals Chinese athletes win this time, I care more about the motivation and vitality it will inject into us in the future," Xi told visiting International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Tuesday.
Rather, Xi said in a video clip published on Wednesday by state broadcaster CCTV that he was more interested in boosting sports participation, referring to Beijing 2022's much publicised pledge to get 300 million Chinese to participate in winter sports.
China said earlier this month that this goal has already been surpassed, however it has not given much detail on what constitutes "participation".
"The popularity of ice and snow sports is actually an improvement to the nation's sports power," Xi can be heard telling Bach.
China has become a powerhouse in the Summer Olympics, regularly finishing near the top of the medals table and even topping it for the first time when Beijing hosted the summer Games in 2008, with a record 48 golds.
The Winter Games, which Beijing will stage from Feb 4 to Feb 20, are a different story.
China's best showing was in 2010 in Vancouver, where it won 11 medals including five golds. Four years ago in Pyeongchang, China won just one gold, in the men's 500m short track speed skating, placing them 16th in the medals table.
However, China has invested heavily in winter sports since winning the right to host the Games in 2015, and will also be lifted by what is traditionally a home country advantage, with analysts Nielsen Gracenote forecasting that it could pick up a best-ever 6 golds next month.
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard Editing by Tony Munroe and Tomasz Janowski) ((firstname.lastname@example.org;))