Beijing: With Rio Olympics drawing to a close, China is agonising over its worst performance in 20 years that led to its surprise relegation to the third spot behind the US and UK, raising questions over the efficacy of its state-sponsored sports system.
China topped the medals table for the first time in 2008 when it hosted Olympic games in Beijing.
China topped the table with 100 medals including 51 gold against the US tally of 36 gold and 110 medals.
At the London Olympics four years later, China finished second behind the US in the medals table with 38 gold against US at 46.
At Rio, China has so far won 26 gold, Beijing's worst show since Atlanta 1996, while UK has won 27 and US 43, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.
Ahead of the Rio Games, China was confident that it would figure among the top two.
"At the 2016 Rio Olympics we aim to maintain and consolidate already-existing advantages in sports events and results positions," China's State General Administration of Sport had said in its five-year plan released ahead of the Rio Games.
But China's surprise poor show in a number of its strong areas including gymnastics and badminton came as a big shock back home.
China's top Badminton star Lin Dan who defeated India's Srikant in a close game could not win even a bronze.
As Britain celebrates its second spot, Chinese official media displayed its annoyance over its team's declining performance.
"You're kidding me?" state-run news agency Xinhua wrote
(in a now-deleted post) on its official Twitter feed.
"The country which has never finished above China, is about to," BBC quoted Xinhua tweets as saying.
Olympic success has been a point of pride for the Communist Party-run country and athletes who perform well tend to be widely celebrated in the state-run media.
The ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily was particularly upset with the performance of the Chinese gymnasts, who take home just two bronze medals.
"People cannot but ponder - what on earth is up with them?" it wrote.
"What has gone wrong? That question will linger long after the Rio Games ends, but finding the reasons and the remedies hopefully can transform China's state-dominated sports industry and propel it to a new level," the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP) said in its commentary on the Rio games. PTI