Star Paddlers Hit Low Ahead of Sydney Games

The potential threat confronting Chinese paddlers are awkward in the 2000 Olympics, even though they brought home three golds from the US Open, which concluded last week.

In the important warm-up tournament to the Olympics, the Chinese were crowned in the men's singles, men's doubles and women's singles.

However, Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang, backbones in men's singles, crashed to Seiko Iseki, former Chinese national team player known as Wei Qingguang, and now representing Japan, and Chiang Peng-lung of Chinese Taipei respectively, while women doubles aces Wang Nan/Li Ju lost to Chen Jing/Xu Jing from Chinese Taipei in the women's doubles final.

Once distressed by a suspected doping scandal since the World Table Tennis Championships last year in the Netherlands, Liu hit bottom after two losses in the World Team Table Tennis Championships early this year in Kuala Lumpur and the team challenge between China and Sweden in Tianjin on July 1.

Liu went down in the second round of play in the US to Seiko Iseki, who lacks Liu's energy and expertise.

If defeats to Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson in the world championships and Tianjin's Challenge can be attributed to the arch-rival's rising style and Liu's poor form, Liu had no execuse for his loss to Seiko Iseki.

Kong Linghui, Liu's partner in the men's doubles, met a serious challenge from Chiang in the quarter-finals of the US Open.

Kong, who is ranked No 1, lost the chance to go further.

On the women's side, Wang Nan and Li Ju, reigning world doubles champions, were eliminated by Jing Junhong and Li Jiawei from Singapore, in the quarter.

And Sun Jin and Li Ju failed to convert their chance in the final when Chen Jing and Xu Jing from Chinese Taipei, gave them a 2-0 lesson.

While the superstars suffered their Waterloo, Wang Liqin, long time underdog in the talent-packed Chinese camp, made a stunning performance at the US Open.

He conquered Chiang Peng-lung in the men's singles final and advanced to world No 2 rankings behind Kong.

Facing all these ups-and-downs from Chinese team members, Yang Shu'an, director of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, reacted quite calmly.

"There is nothing abnormal with our players. And we can not draw any conclusion from the result of one tournament," Yang commented.

"Liu and Kong did not play well this time, but this does not mean they will lose in Sydney."

Wang's excellent play aroused fans' interest about his inclusion in the Chinese Olympic team.

Wang had been a player who usually failed to rise to the challenge when the Chinese camp needed him to.

If the Olympic roster had been decided before July, Wang would probably have been ignored.

But two titles at the Japan and US Opens will surely make Chinese table tennis officials to have a second thought.

But Yang is not jumping to a quick conclusion.

"Wang had been weak before in terms of mental power, but this time he did an excellent job. This is normal and there is no need to make a fuss over it," Yang said.

People's Daily Online ---