Asian paddlers have dominated the table tennis tournament of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as the powerful Chinese, despite major rule changes considered unfavorable to them, bagged three golds.
|Wang Hao beaten by S. Korean Rye in table tennis final |
However, with South Korean Ryu Seung Min taking away the most- coveted men's singles gold, the Chinese have seen looming threats to its dominance in the sport.
The Olympic table tennis tournament, which lasted 10 days from Aug. 14 to 23, has attracted 172 paddlers from 50 countries and regions. However, when the tournament reached its final stage, only Asian faces could be seen in all the four events.
The women's doubles final was played between China and South Korea, men's doubles between China and Chinese Hong Kong, women's singles between China and the DPR Korea, and men's singles between China and South Korea.
"I see Asia has again dominated all the events at this Olympic tournament," said Adham Sharara, president of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) at a press conference here Monday in the Galatsi Olympic Hall in northwest Athens, venue for the tournament.
And China once again spearheaded the Asian dominance as it clinched three golds, one silver and two bronzes. Since the Olympic debut of table tennis in Seoul 1988, China has pocketed 16 of the total 20 golds.
The ITTF might feel a bit disappointed at China's gold haul at this Games, as in the past four years since Sydney 2000 it has adopted three major rule changes to the sport which many believe were intended to curb the Chinese dominance.
|Wang Hao beaten by S. Korean Rye in table tennis final |
The use of the 40mm large balls slowed down the speed of the ball and therefore was no good news to the Chinese, who usually prefer fast attack. The 11-point scoring system not only shortened the match, but also made the match results more unpredictable than under the old 21-point system. And the all-to-see service rule even became a major factor prompting China's ace player Liu Guoliang, an expert on deceptive service, to quit his career.
Earlier this year, the ITTF also revised the Olympic draw rules to stipulate that two pairs of players from the same association be drawn to the same half in the doubles events. This revision virtually ruled out the possibility of an all-Chinese final, which had repeatedly been staged in the previous Olympic tournaments.
"This was the most difficult Olympic tournament we had participated in since 1988," said Cai Zhenhua, head coach of the Chinese table tennis team.
Nevertheless, the Chinese have proved in Athens that they were strong enough to stand the unfavorable rule changes and that they had led the world in getting adapted to the new rules.
"These (rule) changes were not against China, but to improve the sport as a whole," insisted Sharara at the Monday press conference.
But he conceded that "of course any changes in any sport will always affect the best players", and that "any change that we made in table tennis for sure will first affect China".
"But today China is still winning," said Sharara. He also congratulated China on its victory in Athens: "The Chinese athletes really deserve it because they prepared very very well."
|Wang Liqin beat Waldner to win the bronze medal in the table tennis on August 23 at the Athens Olympic Games. |
The ITTF president also pledged that there would be no more rules changes in the next four years before the 2008 Olympic Games
, though the ITTF had proposed to the International Olympic Committee a change of event at Beijing
2008, to replace the doubles events with team competition.
Chinese head coach Cai had voiced his support for this proposal, but at the same time also expressed the hope that the team competition should consist of both singles and doubles matches.
South Korea became the second biggest winner of the Athens tournament as they won one gold, one silver and one bronze.
Ryu's gold was the third Olympic gold for the South Korean paddlers, after a gap of 16 years since Seoul 1988. It was also the second men's singles title for South Korea at the Olympic Games.
Apart from South Korea, China's long-time rival in table tennis, China also saw the menace from other countries and regions, such as the DPR Korea and Chinese Hong Kong, in this tournament.
DPR Korean paddler Kim Hyang Mi ousted China's world singles No. 3 Niu Jianfeng in the last 16 playoffs and fought her way into the women's singles final. Though she lost to China's world No. 1 Zhang Yining 4-0, it was believed that she was just too nervous to display her full strength.
"I will train harder and try my best at the next Olympic Games to earn my motherland an Olympic gold," said Kim at the press conference for medal winners.
With her singles victory, Zhang became the only Chinese athlete who had won two golds so far at the Athens Games. In the women's doubles final, Zhang and her partner, Sydney Olympics double champion Wang Nan, beat South Korean pair Lee Eun Sil/Seok Eun Mi 4-0.
But Wang suffered a surprise defeat to Li Jia Wei of Singapore and was shut out of the last four of women's singles.
"I think our women paddlers are still ahead of the rest of the world, but our lead is no longer so big as others are catching up really fast," commented Cai Zhenhua.
The Chinese Hong Kong paddlers Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching made history in Athens as they won the first Olympic medal, and a silver, for Hong Kong since the former British-occupied territory returned to China in 1997.
They also caused a lot of trouble to Chinese ace pair Chen Qi and Ma Lin, who had to play six hard games to beat the tenacious Hong Kong pair 4-2.
The performance of the European paddlers at this tournament was somehow disappointing, except the 39-year-old Swedish veteran Jan- Ove Waldner and Danish men's doubles pair Michael Maze/Finn Tugwell.
Waldner, a fifth-time Olympian, created a miracle as he defeated three top-seeded Chinese players in singles and doubles in one singles day and also outclassed European champion Timo Boll to enter the singles last four.
Though he had failed to attain his goal of winning one Olympic medal, Waldner still became a hero of the tournament as most spectators rose to their feet and saluted him with warm applause after the singles bronze medal match Monday despite his 4-1 loss to Wang Liqin.
Maze and Tugwell turned out to be the only Europeans who grabbed a medal at the tournament as they won a bronze in men's doubles. This was also the first Olympic table tennis medal for Denmark.