Chinese players face off against Chinese players at the EJINSIGHT Olympic Table Tennis Games

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After wiping out table tennis stakes at the Rio Olympics, winning all four gold in men’s and women’s singles and men’s and women’s team events in table tennis, China is moving forward to clinch gold medals at the Paralympic Table Tennis Games as well, scoring two team wins on Friday.

China is the undisputed champion of table tennis, having won 28 of the 32 gold medals awarded since the game was introduced to the Olympics in 1988. Japan is emerging as a challenger, having won a silver medal and two of bronze.

Before 2012, a country could win all the gold, silver and bronze medals in an event, as China did in 2008.

But the rules have been changed to limit each country to just two players in the singles events so that they can only win two of the three medals at most, giving the other countries a chance.

But the history of table tennis from the 2016 Olympics is neither the continued domination of China nor the emerging challenger: it is the proliferation of Chinese table tennis players around the world, representing nations from Canada to the world. Qatar, from Singapore to the Republic of Congo.

In fact, as the New York Times pointed out, at least 44 table tennis players who competed in the Rio Olympics were born in China, but only six of them represented China.

Players born in China may not stand out when representing an Asian country like Singapore, or even immigrant countries like Canada or Australia.

But when they wear vests that say they represent Slovakia, Luxembourg or the Congo, the audience sits down and takes note.

It is not uncommon for athletes to compete in the Olympic Games from a country that was not their own by birth. What is unusual is the scale at which this occurs in a particular sport, table tennis.

Thirty-one percent, or nearly a third, of table tennis players participating in Rio were not born in the country they represented.

Inevitably, emigrant players are pitted against official members of the Chinese team as well as against each other in the Olympics and other international sporting events.

Thus, the Frenchman of Chinese origin Li Xue was opposed and defeated the Dutchman Li Jie of the Netherlands.

Germany came third in table tennis this year, behind China and Japan, with a few Chinese-born players bolstering their squad to six.

The dispersion of Chinese-born players around the world is due to two factors: China produces a large number of good players, but it has such a wealth of talent that many excellent players feel they have no chance to participate. at international tournaments.

But, once overseas, they grow into big fish in a little pond.

This does not mean that those who migrate are second-rate.

For example, Ni Xialian won the gold medal for China at the World Table Tennis Championships in 1983. Yet she felt there was so much competition at home that she decided to move to the abroad, first in Germany, then in Luxembourg.

She has participated in the Olympic Games three times, wearing the colors of Luxembourg.

Yu Mengyu, another prominent player, moved to Singapore ten years ago and this year played for her adopted country at the Rio Olympics.

The rules of the International Olympic Committee simply require that any athlete who has represented a country in an international competition to wait three years before representing another country.

This is quite different from the rules of the International Table Tennis Federation, which does not allow players to switch allegiance so easily.

Thomas Weickert, president of the ITTF, expressed his desire to see the Olympic rules reformed to bring them closer to those of his federation.

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CG

Franck Ching

Frank Ching opened the Wall Street Journal’s China office in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.


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