China set to dominate at Olympics: ITTF official

By Mark Oakley, AFP

PARIS — China’s domination of world table tennis looks set to continue on home soil at next year’s Beijing Olympics, an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) official has said.

The Beijing University gymnasium, only recently inaugurated, will host the table tennis events where four Olympic golds will be up for grabs during next year’s games from August 8 to 24.

China has dominated the world of table tennis for decades but at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, South Korean Ryu Seung Min upstaged the Chinese to take the men’s singles title.

China won all five titles at the individual world championships at Zagreb, Croatia, in May this year, and, according to the ITTF publications editor Ian Marshall, the trend will probably continue at next year’s Olympics.

“On paper, the Chinese are going to dominate,” Marshall told AFP by telephone at the weekend.

“The only doubt is that they will be under so much pressure in Beijing.”

China have the world’s top four men’s players in Wang Hao, Ma Lin, Wang Liqin and Ma Long according to the latest rankings issued earlier this month while in the women, China have the top five in Zhang Yining, Wang Nan, Guo Yue, Li Xiaoxia and Guo Yan. China’s Table Tennis Association president Xu Yinsheng said after September’s Asian championships that China would have a good chance of winning all four Olympic golds — men’s and women’s singles and doubles — while admitting the men’s singles would be most difficult, something Marshall agreed with. “Timo Boll of Germany (world number five) and Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus (world number six) are the two European players who have the best chance of beating Chinese players,” Marshall continued, adding Olympic champion Ryu Seung Min (world number eight) could also rise to the occasion. “The Chinese are so strong though. Only being allowed three Chinese per event means who do they leave out?”

China’s Table Tennis Association president Xu also believed Ryu and Boll would be a threat to China in the men’s singles.

“Ryu is a fighter and Boll is nearly perfect technically,” Xu said, speaking to the China Daily after China won six of seven titles on offer at the Asian championships.

Meanwhile the use of the Beijing University gymnasium is the first time that the Olympic table tennis competition will be held at a venue dedicated to the sport. Table tennis was listed as an Olympic sport in 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul, and since then, the competition has shared the venues used also for other Olympic competitions for five consecutive Olympics. Located on the Beijing University campus and covering an area of 26,900 square metres, the venue has room for eight competition tables, and can seat 7,557.

Its roof resembles a table tennis ball.

As a trial run, the ITTF, season-ending Pro-Tour Grand Finals will be staged there later this week from Dec. 13 to 19.