Table tennis: Onus on others to improve, says China's men's coach

The Chinese women's team, with coach Kong Linghui, posing for a wefie with their winners' medals after their 11th crown in 12 championships.
The Chinese women's team, with coach Kong Linghui, posing for a wefie with their winners' medals after their 11th crown in 12 championships.PHOTO: REUTERS

Some fret about China's dominance but he cites Japan's rise as reason for optimism

As expected, China's paddlers swept both the men's and women's titles at the World Team Table Tennis Championships yesterday.

Cheered on by a partisan crowd at the Malawati Stadium, the Chinese ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in both finals, which were both Sino-Japanese affairs.

Yesterday's dominant showing also means they are expected to sweep all four golds on offer at the Rio Olympics in August.

But are they killing interest in the sport with their sheer dominance?

After all, such was their superiority that both the men and women won 3-0 in all their eight matches en route to the gold medals.

  • Results

    WOMEN'S FINAL

    Liu Shiwen bt Ai Fukuhara 11-5, 11-6, 11-8; Li Xiaoxia bt Kasumi Ishikawa 6-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-3, 11-5; Ding Ning bt Mima Ito 8-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-1

    MEN'S FINAL

    Xu Xin bt Jun Mizutani 11-6, 11-8, 11-8; Ma Long bt Maharu Yoshimura 11-3, 11-8, 11-6; Zhang Jike bt Yuya Oshima 9-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-7

Since table tennis was introduced at the Olympics in 1988, China have swept 24 of the 28 golds, including every gold in the last two editions.

At the biennial event, the men's team have now lifted the Swaythling Cup eight straight times, while the women have lost the Corbillon Cup only once - to Singapore in 2010 - in the last 12 editions. Yesterday's victories sealed a 20th world team crown for each squad.

Women's coach Kong Linghui admitted that while it is true audiences and young players might be turned off by China's dominance, he was nevertheless encouraged by the rise of Japan.

He said: "Until the semi-final, we hadn't really been tested but today the Japan team put up a very good fight. They are among our best opponents in the past 10 years, similar to the 2010 Singapore team. Mima Ito is only 15 and will be a big threat to us in the coming years.

"All this makes me excited for the Olympics because only when two teams push each other can the sport grow and reach new heights."

Liu Guoliang, coach of the China men's team, stressed that there is no secret to success, saying: "We can all see Japan have improved. It's simply because they have put in more resources into developing the sport with a view to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"So if all the other countries can do the same, then the future of table tennis will be bright."

International Table Tennis Federation chief Thomas Weikert agreed that China's dominance could be a problem for the sport's image.

He suggested to The Straits Times: "Maybe they can share their skills with other countries. That could mean other countries practising in China. We also have some Chinese coaches setting up academies in Europe, like in Luxembourg, so that can help.

"But if China train well and have good players, what can you do?"

Indeed, there was little Japan could do yesterday as chants of "jia you" ("come on" in Mandarin) rang around the venue.

The crowd, comprising mostly staff of the competition's sponsor Perfect, a Chinese company specialising in beauty and skincare products, was unrelenting - just like their teams. At one point, the announcer had to remind them to stay quiet when play was going on.

Asked how he intends to bridge the gap, Japan women's coach Yasukazu Murakami would only say: "Mental, skill, and strategy is important and are areas we will work on... I can't go into specifics, but... we just have to keep practising."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'Onus on others to improve, says Liu'. Print Edition | Subscribe