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MOC head to Beijing with six athletes in contingent

Bezzina Malta's flag-bearer

Nicolai Portelli and Charlene Attard - in Malta's contingent for Beijing.

Nicolai Portelli and Charlene Attard - in Malta's contingent for Beijing.

The Maltese Olympic Committee (MOC) yesterday announced the names of the six athletes who will be representing the country in next month's Olympic Games in Beijing.

Judoka Marcon Bezzina and Double Trap shooter William Chetcuti, both competing in their second successive Olympics, will spearhead the team that also includes sprinters Nicolai Portelli and Charlene Attard and swimmers Madeleine Scerri and Ryan Gambin.

The Malta contingent will be headed by MOC president Lino Farrugia Sacco and general secretary Joe Cassar. Julian Pace Bonello will be the chef-de-mission, assisted by Marie-Therese Zammit and David Azzopardi.

Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco said the athletes travelling to China for the August 8-24 Games, represent the top talent in our sport.

"The MOC wanted to make sure that the country's best will make it to the Beijing Olympics," he said.

"Qualification is different to other events. With the exception of swimming and athletics, where each country is represented through the concept of universality, in other disciplines athletes have to achieve a qualifying time or reach a certain standard of competition to earn a wild card.

"We are heading to Beijing with our best crop of athletes.

"Their preparation was excellent and we're confident that all members in our group will do Malta proud."

Bezzina will be the flag-bearer in Beijing. She will lead out the Malta contingent during the opening ceremony at the Beijing National Stadium.

"I think Marcon fully deserves the honour to carry the Maltese flag in Beijing. She is a very dedicated athlete who achieved some remarkable results throughout her career. We regard her as a role model and an inspirational judoka."

During the past four years, the MOC invested heavily to make sure that in Beijing they will reap rich dividends, and, hopefully edge closer to a place on the podium. Chetcuti has long been earmarked as the one in the best position to fulfil the MOC ambitions.

The 23-year-old finished ninth overall in Athens 2004. He suffered a dip in form in the past few months but seemed to have rediscovered his old self earlier this week with a convincing showing at the European Championships in Cyprus where he placed sixth overall in Double Trap.

Asked whether the MOC was still confident of a serious medal bid in Beijing, the MOC president replied: "Our aspirations in shooting are still high and we believe that in William we have a talented competitor who can realise our dream.

"However, one has to understand that success in shooting requires a high level of mental preparation. If something wrong happens on competition day, all hopes of success will be practically dashed as the level of concentration goes down.

"William's build-up was demanding but the signs are looking good. Hopefully, he will reach Beijing in top shape... we all know that on his day he can compete on an equal par with the best in the world."

Chetcuti and Bezzina will be the first Maltese athletes in action at the Olympics.

Chetcuti starts the Double Trap shoot at the Beijing National Range on August 12, the same day that Bezzina will be involved in the opening rounds of the judo U-63 class.

On August 13, it will be the turn of Australia-based Scerri to dive in the pool of the National Acquatics Centre and take part in the 100m freestyle heats.

Gambin, the only member in the MOC contingent who qualified for the Games on his own merit, after achieving the 'B' time for the 100m butterfly, is scheduled to compete in the heats on August 14.

In track and field, Attard, will be involved in the 100m heats on August 16.

"This will be my first Olympic Games and I'm looking forward to it," a beaming Attard told reporters yesterday.

"My preparations went according to plan. Given the strength of the field it's difficult to qualify but our target is to lower my own national record over the distance."

Portelli will compete in the opening rounds of the 200m on August 18.

"Being at the Olympics is a dream come true for me," he said.

"This year I was very strong in both the 200m and 400m. However, I feel that in the 200m I could have done better.

"I will surely give my all on race day and make the most of this opportunity."

The Malta contingent will leave for Beijing on July 27.

Malta's flag-bearers at Olympics:
1936 Godfrey Craig
1948 Francis Zammit Cutajar
1960 Chris Dowling
1968 Louis Grasso
1972 Patrick Grech
1980 Frans Chetcuti
1984 Peter Bonello
1988 Joanna Agius
1992 Laurie Pace
1996 Carol Galea
2000 Laurie Pace
2004 William Chetcuti
2008 Marcon Bezzina.

Factbox - Beijing by numbers

Statistics about Beijing and the 2008 Olympic Games, which start on August 8.

The games

16 - days from opening to closing ceremony.
302 - sport events.
21,600 - accredited journalists.
100,000 - official Olympic and Paralympic volunteers.
400,000 - city volunteers to provide tourist services, bolster security.
1,000,000 - social volunteers at community level.
16,000 - athletes and officials in the Olympic Village.
91,000 - seats in the "Bird's Nest" National Olympic stadium.
31 - venues in Beijing.
6 - venues outside Beijing (Hong Kong, Qingdao, Tianjin, Shenyang, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao).
7,000,000 - tickets sold for the Games.
5,000 yuan - cost of opening ceremony seat ($661.4).
30 yuan - general admission for softball preliminaries ($3.97).
24.9 Celsius - average temperature in Beijing in August.
159.7 mm - average rainfall in Beijing in August.
50 per cent - forecast chance of rain on August 8, day of opening ceremony.
8 - number of thunderstorms forecast for Games period.

The city

16,330,000 - permanent residents of the city (2007).
$6,210 - GDP per capita (2006).
19,978 yuan - urban disposable income per capita ($2,641, 2006).
4,680,000 - Internet users (at end of 2006).
3,903,000 - visitors to Beijing (2006).
2,500,000 - expected visitors to Beijing during Games.
120 bn yuan - investment in environmental improvement from 1998 to 2006 ($15.87 billion).
246 - "blue sky days" in 2007.*
256 - "blue sky days" targeted for 2008.*
123 - "blue sky days" in first six months of 2008.*
65,000 - old buses and taxis to be taken off the road before the Games.
5,850,000 - tonnes of garbage produced in the city in 2006.
77,000 - cars in Beijing, 1978.
3,300,000 - forecast number of cars in Beijing by Games.
1,060 - extra cars hitting Beijing roads every day.
198 km - subway track in Beijing by 2008.
10,000,000 - bicycles in Beijing.

Note: "Blue sky days" denote satisfactory air quality according to official measures, which some experts have dismissed as unscientific and incomplete compared to other international standards.

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