Zhang Yining, the table tennis world champion, unexpectedly stole the limelight at the Party congress opening on Monday.   Oct. 17 - Seven Olympic hopefuls are among the youngest delegates to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). They include table tennis paddler Zhang Yining, 10-meter air-rifle athlete Du Li, and tennis players Zheng Jie and Sun Tiantian.  

Zhang Yining, the table tennis world champion, unexpectedly stole the limelight at the Party congress opening yesterday. The 26-year-old paddler was besieged by journalists from home and abroad.  

She was asked to comment on the national event as well as her thoughts on the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games. Zhang was even questioned by a reporter from Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, to comment about her rivals in Japan.  

Born in 1984, fencer Tan Xue is the youngest delegate to the 17th Party congress, 69 years younger than the oldest. She won China its first gold in the women's saber individual in the world championships in 2002.  

The Athens silver medalist, like other Olympic athlete attendees, intends to make use of this opportunity to learn more about national policy, participate in the Party's internal affairs as well as make suggestions to make next year's Olympics a success.  

"It's my first time to attend such an assembly. It will help me to understand Party theory, and that way I can better apply 'the scientific outlook on development' and win honors for our country," Tan was quoted by Chinanews.com, one of China's major news websites.  

Other Olympics 2008 prospective winners were also selected as delegates to the Party congress, including Australian and Wimbledon doubles champion Zheng Jie, 24, Olympic tennis doubles champion Sun Tiantian, 25, Olympic shooting champion Du Li, 25, and China's first Olympic canoe gold medalist Yang Wenjun, 24.  

The 27 delegates from the sports fields also constitute some renowned coaches or retired Olympic champions, like Wang Yifu, head coach of the Chinese rifle and pistol team, as well as a former Olympic and world champion, and Sun Haiping, coach of the world 110m hurdles record holder Liu Xiang.  

Party experts point out that the growing number of delegates from sports shows the election of Party representatives is keeping current, which also proves the Party represents a wider variety of people. It also demonstrates China's ambition of hosting a successful Olympic Games and encouraging more people to embrace sports.  

"We must organise the 2008 Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and 2010 World Expo well," President Hu Jintao said in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 17th Party congress yesterday. "We must comprehensively develop mass participation of sports among the people."