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Can China repeat table tennis sweep in London?

(Xinhua)

10:00, July 11, 2012

BEIJING - Will China win all four gold medals on offer in table tennis in London? The answer seems apparent. Given the country's supremacy in the sport, anything but gold would be a shocking defeat.

However, China's table tennis team officials are playing down public expectations. "We are confident in our players. But to win all four gold medals is much more difficult than people expected," said Huang Biao, China' s national table tennis team manager.

China has won 20 of 24 gold medals available since table tennis was introduced into the Olympics in 1988. Four years ago in Beijing, it took away all six medals in the men's and women's singles, plus gold in both team events.

However, this time around, China cannot do it again.

The International Table Tennis Federation has altered its rules for the London Games, allowing only two players from one nation to enter singles, eliminating the possibility of another 1-2-3 finish for Chinese men and women. The third qualifier can only compete in team event.

The federation also changed the competition format for the London Olympics - singles comes before team event.

The changes have increased variables for China's gold quest. Liu Guoliang, head coach of the men's table tennis team, said the singles-first format poses "unprecedented challenges" to Chinese players.

China is an overwhelming favorite to win both team events. It won almost all team events in two decades, losing only once to Singapore's women's team in the World Team Championships in Moscow in 2010.

"If our players have already pocketed one gold medal (in team event), then it will be easier for them to get another in the singles event. Now the competition format is reversed, and our pace is changed. The players will have huge pressure," Liu said.

In London, the singles will follow a knockout format. Chinese players do not need to play preliminary rounds. They will qualify directly to the third round. Any slip in singles will increase pressure in the team event.

Current world No 1 Zhang Jike and twice Olympic silver medalist Wang Hao will compete in men's singles. Current world No 2 Ma Long will join them in team event.

A right handed dynamic attacker, the 24-year-old Zhang is the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in 2011. He is widely seen as a gold medal favorite for the London Olympic men's title.

Wang, 27, was eorld champion in men's singles in 2009. He twice let slip gold medals at Olympic men's singles, losing to South Korea's Ryu Seung Min at Athens 2004 and his teammate Ma Lin at Beijing 2008.

Both Zhang and Wang are thirsty for an Olympic gold medal in order to earn a Grand Slam, which would place them within the league of such legendary players as Jan-Ove Waldner and Liu Guoliang.

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