Rio de Janeiro, Aug 22 (AFP) China put a brave face on their worst Olympics for 20 years but they will work hard to make sure they aren't embarrassed again in 2020 -- when the Games are hosted by arch-rivals Japan.
A third-placed finish on the medals table below the United States and Britain, made for a sobering Games after China triumphantly topped the standings at Beijing 2008 and finished second in 2012.
"You kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to," spluttered the official Xinhua news agency, in a tweet that was later removed.
As well as their lowest gold medals tally (26) since Atlanta in 1996, when Jiang Zemin was president, China were also left smarting on a couple of occasions.
Australia rebuffed China's demand for an apology after Mack Horton called swimming rival Sun Yang a "drugs cheat", an incident which prompted a furious response from Chinese media and web-users.
Later, China complained, but again to no avail, after the United States were allowed to re-run their women's 4x100m heat, knocking the Chinese team out of the event and eventually winning gold.
A Xinhua commentary said the re-run was against the "Olympic spirit of fairness" and was "widely regarded as ridiculous and unfair".
Liu Peng, head of China's Olympic committee, said China would learn lessons from Rio, when rising standards in other teams had taken them by surprise.
Tellingly, China brought a large but youthful team with an average age of 24, the lowest of the last three Olympics.
Of the 410 athletes, the most China has ever taken to an Olympics away from home, 73 percent were at their first Games, Liu said.
It points to a rebuilding phase ahead of Tokyo, capital of China's war-time rival and former colonial power which still evokes bitter resentment among many Chinese.
- 'More than a champion!' -
"We have trained these (young) athletes but the training isn't enough," he said.
"Because when these athletes are facing fierce competition and challenges, they have too much to think about and too many mental burdens and they didn't play at their highest level."
China won only one medal in swimming -- down from five in 2012 -- and two in badminton, after they swept all five titles in London.