China pulled off an historic clean sweep at the Olympic table tennis, cementing its status as the superpower but raising concerns about the sport's future.
Gold medalist Ma Lin (C) of China, Silver medalist Wang Hao (L) of China and Bronze medalist Wang Liqin (R) also of China celebrate with their medals after competing in the men's table tennis singles competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 23, 2008. [Agencies]
China won all six medals in the men's and women's singles, plus two golds in the team events for eight out of eight possible medals.
With countries and regions allowed only one men's and women's team in that event, which replaced doubles in Beijing for the first time, its rivals enjoyed success by claiming the minor medals.
Singapore, led by Li Jia Wei, celebrated silver in the women's team event after going down to China in the final, handing the city-state its first Olympic medal in any sport for 48 years.
Germany, led by world No 6 Timo Boll, was also satisfied with silver after it was thumped by China in the men's team final.
South Korea took bronze in both men's and women's teams, but suffered an upset early when Olympic champion Ryu Seung-min was dumped from the men's singles in his first match.
China, boasting the world's top four players on the men's and women's side, was in a league of its own, coming good on its promise beforehand to whitewash the tournament.
"Because of the hard effort of the women's and men's teams these past few days, you can see only one colored national flag rising up to the roof of the gymnasium, that is the miracle we have created," said head coach Liu Guoliang.
While China, where table tennis is the national sport, has traditionally dominated the Olympic tournament introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games, it, nor any other nation or region, has never before pulled off such a clean sweep.
Its shadow was so great that only two players from other nations and regions, Singapore's Li on the women's side, and Swedish veteran Jorgen Persson on the men's, reached singles semifinals.
"I played well but it's hard to break the Chinese wall," 42-year-old Persson, who has played at all six Olympics in his quest to win a medal, said after losing the bronze medal match to China's Wang Liqin.
Gold in the men's singles for world No 2 Ma Lin was a dream come true after years of choking at the crunch in big events.
On the women's side, Zhang Yining won back-to-back gold after success in Athens, beating retiring veteran and teammate Wang Nan, while young-gun Guo Yue took bronze.
But concern is mounting that such a stranglehold will dent public interest, particularly outside of China where the sport competes with others for television ratings and crowd support.
"In general, it is a very big concern," International Table Tennis Federation president Adham Sharara said just before Saturday's matches, adding that ratings on Chinese television during the Olympic finals were excellent.
"We do not want to limit Chinese participation, but we need other nations to grow to challenge them.
"You know in every sport the most exciting part ... is the competition between two competitors of very equal level and from different cultures, countries or different parts of the world."
Sharara said now that Olympic competition was over, Chinese sporting officials have promised to share their exceptional coaching techniques with other countries, possibly through a new academy in Beijing.
"The level of coaching in European and other countries has not kept up with the level in China," he said.