Ping-pong team enters 100-gold club
SHANGHAI: China once again proved its status as a giant of the table tennis world on Friday at the 48th World Table Tennis Championships.
In the last two matches of the Shanghai championship, World No 1 Wang Liqin secured his second world title by beating teammate Ma Lin 4-2 in the men's singles, and Wang Nan and Zhang Yining stretched their domination with a second consecutive women's doubles victory. Compatriots Guo Yue and Niu Jianfeng picked up silver.
Chinese players have swept all five titles at the tournament, making China the first country to reach the 100-gold medal mark.
"This is a milestone in China's table tennis history," said Cai Zhenhua, director of the Administrative Centre of Table Tennis. "It is due to the hard work of several generations of players and coaches over the past years."
At the Athens Olympics last year, women's paddler Zhang made history when she won China's 100th summer Olympics gold medal by clinching the title in the women's singles.
Before the Shanghai competition, China had won a total of 95.5 golds (one women's doubles title was won by a Chinese player paired with a Korean partner) since the first World Championships in London in 1926.
Only by pocketing all five titles could China rewrite table tennis history. Now the record extends to 100.5, a considerable distance ahead of the next most successful country Hungary, who boast a total of 68 gold medals.
"I am very excited to win the 100th gold medal for China," said Wang Liqin. "But we still have a lot to improve on."
"We are very happy to see another clean sweep on home soil," said Cai. "This is just a beginning. I have seen a lot European players such as Timo Boll of Germany and Danish Michael Maze are maturing. They have launched a greater challenge to us this time in Shanghai."
It is fourth time in the championship's 52-year-history that China has swept all the titles. The previous three sweeps were in Yugoslavia in 1981, Tianjin in 1995 and Osaka in 2001.
The event, organized by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), Chinese Table Tennis Association and Shanghai Municipal Government, is believed to be the biggest championship in the event's history.
This year over 1,500 players and officials from 147 countries and regions and 866 journalists from around the world attended.
"This is the best championships I have seen. The spectators are so good and the organizing work is also perfect," said Adham Sharara, chairman of the ITTF. "The Chinese players have played great table tennis and championships should be given to the best players in the world."
Shanghai native Wang Liqin, the 2001 world championship winner, regained a long-awaited men's singles trophy.
Despite being the dominant nation in the world of table tennis, China has missed out on recent men's singles titles. Ryu Seung-min of the Republic of Korea won the Athens Olympic gold medal and Werner Schlager of Austria took the 47th World Championships in Paris in 2003.
"We were determined before the tournament to win the trophy back," said Wang. "My next target is the Beijing Olympics. As long as I can participate, I will try my best to win the gold, just like I've done tonight."
Wang Liqin made it to the men's final after overpowering Oh Sang-eun of South Korea 4-1 while Ma advanced with a lop-sided 4-0 victory over darkhorse Michael Maze, who beat Athens singles finalist Wang Hao and promising star Hao Shuai.
"I tried hard to find my range but it is Ma who controlled the match from the very beginning. It seemed like he knew what I wanted to do on the table and I think he is the best of the three players I have met in the tournament," said Maze.
"There is still a gap between us and Ma is much better than me.
"I am not sad as I played my best table tennis and even beat two Chinese players, and now I will go back home and start a new round of training."
Both Ma and Wang were playing in their second championship final.
"I was pushed in the first three games," said Wang. "The timeout in the fourth game was very welcome and after that I gradually got back on track."
The championships also saw Chinese veteran Wang Nan equal the record of 18 world titles. A feat she now shares with China's legendary Deng Yaping after she and Zhang Yining defeated Guo Yue and Niu Jianfeng 4-1 to defend their women's doubles championship.
"This is the best result I could imagine because the Shanghai event will be my last world championships," said Wang Nan, who has participated five championships.
"The record of 18 golds was not in my mind.Deng Yaping and I are very different players, she is more active and aggressive than me."
Wang/Zhang ousted Hong Kong's Tie Yana and Zhang Rui 4-2 in the semi-finals earlier on Friday and their rivals Guo and Niu overpowered tournament debutantes Bai Yang/Guo Yan 4-0.
Facing speculation that her era is over after Zhang's swift emergence, Wang, retiring from international competition after the Shanghai event, was candid about passing on the title of leading player in the national team.
"That's quite common," said Wang Nan. "She is definitely the best woman player in the world and deserves to be the leader of the team."
Earlier yesterday, Wang Nan received 10,001 red roses from her fans sent even though she was knocked out by South Korea's Moon Hyun-jung 4-3 in the third round of the singles competition.
"This is the greatest moment of my career," sobbed Wang Nan. "I've never seen so many roses in my life, especially after my defeat in the singles. I felt so sorry.
"I want to present the doubles' victory to my fans who always support me and I will remember them all my life."
Wang also carried home a half-size duplicate of the women's singles trophy for winning three consecutive titles between 1999 and 2003.