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Coe predicts China will top medals table in London

Sebastian Coe predicts China will outperform the United States to win the medals race at the London Olympics.

Coe, the two-time 1,500-meter Olympic champion who heads London's organizing committee for the games, said China has expanded its sporting prowess beyond its traditional strengths and should take home the most medals this summer.

"I think it will be China, U.S., and then Russia," Coe said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press ahead of next week's 100-day countdown to the games. "I just think if you look at it, in its entirety, (it will be) China."

The Americans led the overall medal count at the 2008 Beijing Games with 110 — 10 more than China. The Chinese won the most gold medals with 51, while the U.S. was second with 36.

"Look at the way the Chinese have ranged far wider than some of their staple sports like gymnastics," Coe said. "They have strength in the pool, women's football. It's going to be a truly global games."

Luciano Barra, a former Italian Olympic official who projects Olympic results, recently predicted that China would win 103 total medals, including 43 gold, in London. He projected the U.S. winning 82 total medals, including 35 gold, with Russia third with 76 and 30.

Coe said the fight for fourth place in the London medals "is going to be as tough as it's ever been."

Britain finished fourth in Beijing with 47 medals and is targeting the same position on home soil, but Coe said Germany, France and Australia will be pushing hard.

"The Germans are probably going to bring the strongest team they've ever brought to a games," he said. "The French are very, very strong this time, and the Australians will think fourth place is very much up for grabs. We (Britain) could end up with more medals than we got in Beijing and maybe not finish fourth in the medals table."

Coe singled out two star names that will stand out in London — Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who won gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters and sprint relay in world-record times in Beijing, and U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, who captured a record eight golds in China.

"Clearly, in my own sport, Usain Bolt is Muhammad Ali," Coe said. "It's what all the kids talk about when I'm in schools. And Michael Phelps is a massive, massive name."

Coe, who won gold medals in the 1,500 at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, believes new names will emerge to grab the spotlight.

"The Olympic Games has a very unhealthy respect for reputation," he said. "Any athlete thinking they're sailing into London with an Olympic gold medal nailed on (is making a mistake). The great thing about the games is that it will throw up people who are going to absolutely rip up the form book and they may not even realize it."

Coe, who has traveled around the world in the buildup to the games, senses athletes are primed to excel in London.

"They are talking about these games in a way I've never heard athletes talk about games in the past," he said. "I think by the very nature of those conversations, we're going to see athletes participating at an extraordinarily high level."

Coe said no decision has been made on who will light the flame at the July 27 opening ceremony. British bookmakers list Britain's five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave as the odds-on favorite, with Kelly Holmes, Roger Bannister and Daley Thompson among other favorites.

"I love speculating about it as well," Coe said. "None of us have had any conversations about it. There have been no formal conversations about it, at all. What I can confirm is that it won't be me. I'm going to be pretty hands-full that week."

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Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap