SYDNEY • Women's world No. 1 Liu Shiwen will not take part in the table tennis singles at the Rio Olympics after failing to secure one of China's two spots in the competition, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) announced yesterday.
The Chinese Table Tennis Association has instead handed the slots to tried-and-tested Olympic campaigners in reigning champion Li Xiaoxia and world champion Ding Ning, the London silver medallist.
Despite being first in the world rankings since December, Liu, 25, missed out on singles selection.
She will, however, get the chance to make her Olympic debut in Brazil when she teams up with Li and Ding to defend China's team title after London gold medallist Guo Yue was dropped from the national team owing to a spinal injury.
Zhang Jike, who beat colleague Wang Hao to secure gold in London four years ago, will have the chance to retain his singles title in Rio after being picked alongside world No. 1 Ma Long in the men's competition.
The 28-year-old world No. 4, who has lost several high-profile matches lately, was preferred to Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong for the tournament despite being below them in the world rankings.
World No. 3 Xu will join Ma and Zhang to defend the team title but teenager Fan, second in the world rankings, will not get a chance to make his Olympic debut.
World champion Ma missed out on a singles berth at the 2012 Olympics after a brief dip in his ranking, despite having dominated the sport for much of the previous two years.
Zhang's selection will likely come under some scrutiny. The ITTF noted on its website that his "somewhat indifferent performances by his own very high standards had posed question marks as to whether Zhang Jike would gain selection".
After all, since winning at London 2012, he has claimed only two men's singles titles on the ITTF World Tour. The ITTF added: "By comparison, Ma has won nine, Fan and Xu, six each."
According to the ITTF website, the table tennis events at the Rio Games will take place from Aug 6 to 17 at Riocentro Pavilion 3 and the four sets of medals on offer are men's singles, women's singles, men's team and women's team.
China have swept all four table tennis titles at the last two Olympics. Their biggest competition in Rio will be Japan, who have confirmed a strong team represented by Ai Fukuhara and Kasumi Ishikawa (women's singles) and Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa (men's singles).