BEIJING - Up to 2,000 performers will feature at the closing ceremony for the Youth Olympics in China's Nanjing city Thursday after 12 days of competition that showcased the sporting superstars of the future. No official medals table is published for the multi-sports event which focuses on a programme promoting friendship and sportsmanship, rather than winning.
But China's deputy chef de mission Xiao Tian told state media Thursday that China topped the medals count. "Our athletes claimed 37 golds, 13 silvers and 13 bronzes," Xiao told the official news agency Xinhua, adding the tally "ranked the first in the Games". Unofficial tallies said China were followed by Russia on 27 golds and the United States with 10.
Tennis starlet Ye Shilin, 16, who is being tipped by state media to follow in the footsteps of 32-year-old double Grand Slam winner Li Na and become China's next great player, won the girls' singles. Another home-grown talent, 17-year-old Shen Duo, swept to six gold medals in the swimming pool, despite suffering from flu. In table tennis -- a sport long dominated by China -- 17-year-old rising star Fan Zhendong claimed gold in both the boys' singles and mixed team doubles events.
China also dominated the girls football, beating Venezuela 5-0 in the final on Wednesday evening. Chinese basketball phenomenon Yao Ming -- an eight-time NBA All-Star -- made an appearance at the Games and backed the non-competitive emphasis, saying that events for young athletes should do "away with the results, the records, the medals".
"Whatever you are and no matter what size you are, we are all members of a group," China's official news agency Xinhua quoted Yao -- who is listed as 2.29 metres (7ft 6in) tall -- as saying. "The individual is always tiny," he added. More than 3,700 competitors aged 15 to 18 took part in the Games, where golf and rugby, in the form of sevens, made their return to the Olympic fold, after gaps of 110 and 90 years respectively.
France won the boys' rugby while Australia won the girls'. Italy's Renato Paratore won the boys' golf, while South Korea's Lee So-Young won the girls' event and Sweden won the mixed team gold.
Thursday evening's closing ceremony in Nanjing, in eastern China, was to be about "sharing youth, friendship, and touching moments", according to the website of state broadcaster CCTV. But the event was marred by concerns about the tropical virus Ebola, which has killed more than 1,400 people in west Africa in its most serious outbreak ever.
Athletes from affected countries were barred from competing in some sports, the International Olympic Committee and Chinese organisers said. The decision affected two athletes in combat sports and one in pool events, a joint statement said, without revealing their nationalities. According to the Youth Olympics' website there were a total of 25 people on the team lists of Ebola-hit Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. The Nigerian team later withdrew.