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China table tennis still a smash

Updated : 2017-04-18
By Owen Fishwick (chinadaily.com.cn)

After eight days of action, the 23rd Seamaster Asian Table Tennis Championships came to a close at a Wuxi stadium, packed with cheering fans.

Throughout the week, 248 athletes from 27 countries competed to reach the top step of the podium, in a raucous atmosphere marking the immense popularity the sport has gained in China.

Held for the first time in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, the Asian Championships are a serious proving ground for table tennis’s toughest group – long dominated by the big three – China, Japan, and South Korea.

Despite not sweeping all gold at the tournament, China once again topped the medal tally with 13, six of which were gold from a total of seven available.

So why is China paddling way out in front of the rest of the world when it comes to table tennis?

China's love affair with table tennis first began after it was introduced by British army officers stationed in the country in 1901. Its popularity over time grew due to the sport's inclusivity, allowing it to be played by young and old, rich and poor. Table tennis, also known as Ping Pong or even whiff-whaff, has thrived because it can be played almost anywhere, from the school yard to railway platforms, table tennis tables can be seen all across the length and breadth of China.

For a time, table tennis was really the only major sport in China, with Chairman Mao even proclaiming it as the country's national sport.


China table tennis still a smash

Zhang Jike lunges to strike back during a fierce rally at the 23rd Seamaster ITTF Asian Table Tennis Championships held in Wuxi. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]

The country finally made its mark on the global stage in 1959, when Ring Guotuan won the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Championship, the first Chinese national to become a world champion in any sport. Zhuang Zedong followed it up by taking the next three titles in 1961, 1963 and 1965. China had firmly placed its paddle on the table as a new Ping Pong superpower.

To ensure further success was to follow, the government began to invest in table tennis and sent coaches out across the country to find the next generation of talent to make sure their rise to prominence continued. The coaches focused on finding children with the quickest cat-like reflexes, and the hand-eye coordination of fighter pilots.

China quickly created a system whereby it could develop, nurture and train the best in the sport from a young age. The country's huge depth of talent, intensive training and selection methods, its extensive team of support staff and analysts are able to provide Chinese players with the best tools possible to pinpoint their opponents' weaknesses.

China table tennis still a smash

Former world number one Liu Shiwen prepares to return serve at the 23rd Seamaster ITTF Asian Table Tennis Championships held in Wuxi. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]

Complexes such as the Chinese National Table Tennis Training Center (CNTTTC) in Hebei province, home to the national team since 1992, were created to develop, improve and hone every aspect of players' abilities. There is accommodation on site, as well as a restaurant, state-of-the-art gym and even masseurs and traditional Chinese medical doctors.

The CNTTTC has trained many of table tennis's Chinese superstars, such as Deng Yaping, Qiao Hong, Kong Linghui, Ma Lin, Wang Ligin, and Zhang Yining.

For the past 11 consecutive years, the ITTF world title holder has been Chinese. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, China took home every single medal on offer in the sport.

As a result, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) decided to change the selection rules so that each country could only enter two players to compete in each competition. This was supposed to limit China's dominance of world table tennis, however, it doesn't seem to have worked.


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