TT player glut forces Chinese to scatter all over the worlds

Updated: 2007-05-23 08:54

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) uses English as a working language, but in the ongoing ITTF world championships, the most spoken tongue is Chinese.

"You are the 150th Chinese to whom I say Ni Hao (hello in Chinese)," Austra's top women's player Liu Jia said to the reporter.

Liu Jia is one of about 70 former Chinese who represent various countries and regions in the Zagreb Worlds which attracted over 600 athletes. Add the players from China and Chinese Taipei, the number of Chinese-speaking athletes is well over 150.

Ai Fukuhara, the hugely popular Japanese player, speaks fluent Chinese with a bit Liaoning accent, acquired while playing for the northeastern Chinese club in 2006.

China is never short of table tennis talents as the country has invested heavily in the sport since Rong Guotuan claimed the 1959 world singles championship, the first world title of any sports for China.

"Almost every Chinese plays table tennis and there are so many good players out there," said the Beijing-born Liu.

"It is very hard to make it to the Chinese national team. For a better career, I joined the Austrian team," she added.

Beijing has churned out more table tennis expatriates than any Chinese cities. Zhu Fang (Spain), Li Jia Wei (Singapore), Yang Zi (Singapore), Zhang Xueling (Singapore), Wu Xue (Dominican Republic), Li Qiangbing (Austria) and Wang Chen (United States) are all from the Chinese capital.

The women's game of the recent European championships was dominated by former Chinese. Liu Jia failed to defend her singles honor while the 34-year-old Li Jiao of the Netherlands downed the 44-year-old Ni Xia Lian of Luxembourg in the final.

When jokingly asked about the official language of world table tennis, ITTF media chief Arne Madisen quipped: "It's Chinese, of course!"

The all-conquering Chinese team, which has lost only one world title in the new millennium, sees Singapore as a major threat in Zagreb.

All of the six-member Singapore team came from China. Its women' s players Li Jia Wei, Wang Yue Gu and Sun Bei Bei are ranked 7th, 9th and 19th in the world.

The top ranked Singaporean men are Gao Ning, 25th, and Yang Zi, 33rd.

"I think Wang Yue Gu is the most dangerous to Chinese women in the singles event," said Chinese coach Li Sun.

Singapore is coached by another expat Chinese Liu Guodong, whose brother Liu Guoliang heads the Chinese men's team.

Li Sun's kid sister Li Jun now plays for Japan and another Chinese national team coach Li Xiaodong is the father of Li Qiangbing, who plays for Austria.

Qi Baohua, the elder sister of Qi Baoxiang, who coaches the Chinese second-string women's team, used to play for Hong Kong in the 1990s.

A dozen of Chinese coaches are advising foreign teams in the Zagreb Worlds. Better known among them are newly-named New Zealand chief Li Chunli, England head coach Liu Jiayi, Wang Dayong, the mentor of Belgium's former world No. 1 Jean-Michel Saive, and Liu Yanjun, who guided Liu Jia to the European singles championship in 2005.

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