China continues to dominate
Chinese coach Liu Guoliang realizes his country's lopsided victories damage table tennis' image and don't help generate much interest in the sport around the world. He's not about to apologize, though.
The Chinese men dominated Singapore 3-0 on Sunday at the London Games in barely an hour to reach the semifinals, another easy victory. China is too good, and Liu knows it.
"We welcome talented table tennis players coming to China to learn the game," said Liu, who won two gold medals in the 1996 Olympics. "We know it's not so good, but we have a long history of the game in our country. ... There is very big pressure on us to win, just like American basketball."
China has already won two gold and two silver medals in men's and women's singles at the games, and the nation is favored to take two more golds in the team events. That would push its record to 24 of 28 gold medals since the sport entered the 1988 Olympics.
Three others reached the men's team semifinals with victories on Sunday: Germany, South Korea and Hong Kong. Germany defeated Austria 3-0, South Korea beat Portugal 3-2, and Hong Kong defeated Japan 3-2.
China plays Germany and Hong Kong faces South Korea in Monday's semifinals.
On the women's side, Japan reached the team final Sunday, defeating Singapore 3-0. They will probably meet China, which plays South Korea on Monday in the other semifinal. The women's final is Tuesday.
The Japanese trio of Kasumi Ishikawa, Ai Fukuhara and Sayaka Hirano are guaranteed to bring Japan its first table tennis medal in the Olympics.
"We had nothing to lose, so we just went for it," said Hirano, who's playing in her second Olympics. "This is something Japan has been waiting ages for."
In men's play, Hong Kong's victory amounted to another win for China, since all three players were born in mainland China, not Hong Kong.
Timo Boll of Germany, widely regarded as the best non-Chinese player, is expecting support — even from some Chinese fans.
"Many Chinese have told me it's also a little boring for them that China always wins," he said. "So I think they are also waiting for a close match. Tomorrow is the day we need a little more help from them. Maybe the whole world is behind us, even some Chinese fans."
China defeated Germany 3-0 in the gold-medal game at the 2008 Olympics.
The world governing body has tried to slow China. In these Olympics only two players from one nation could enter singles, which guaranteed a medal for a non-Chinese. Four years ago in Beijing, three could enter — and China swept all the men's and women's medals.
China's state-run system recruits thousands into sports schools, often thousands of miles from home. The field is eventually narrowed to a few.
"Over the last 35 years the Chinese have accelerated away from us," said Werner Schlager, who played for Austria against Germany. "The Chinese know it's bad for table tennis if there is no competition. So they know they have to help us in Europe, and they do."
Yang Zi, who played Sunday on Singapore's losing team, was born in China and grew up in the sports-school system. He left about 10 years ago to play in Singapore.
"There was no chance for me in China," he said. "It's really almost impossible to beat China. Chinese players have so much more training time and the government support. ... There are probably more than 200 players in China at my level."