Table tennis: Rivals' rise no threat to China's dominance: Jiang Jialiang

The resurgence of China's key table tennis rivals has not worried 1980s great Jiang Jialiang. He is one of four team captains for the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League and is here to promote it.
The resurgence of China's key table tennis rivals has not worried 1980s great Jiang Jialiang. He is one of four team captains for the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League and is here to promote it.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Depth of experience, talent will be factors in keeping Germany, Japan at bay in Tokyo

Speak to Jiang Jialiang about the perceived slide in Chinese table tennis standards and he is in no doubt that his country is still the side to beat at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

How confident is he?

"I am 80 per cent sure," was his quickfire reply to The Straits Times.

"It doesn't matter if it's Ma Long (world No. 1) or Fan Zhendong (2) or Lin Gaoyuan (9), China is still the strongest team in the world. We have the talent and the experience."

The former Chinese national paddler was speaking on the sidelines at an event yesterday to promote the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's premises at Toa Payoh. He is captain of Team JJ, one of the four teams in the inaugural competition.

Jiang, 53, was twice the world singles champion (1985, 1987) as well as a three-time world team champion (1983, 1985, 1987). He won the singles title at the 1986 Asian Table Tennis Championships and was twice runner-up at the 1986 and 1987 Table Tennis World Cup.

Since the sport's inclusion in the Olympics in 1988, China has been way ahead in the medal standings, with 28 golds while second-placed Korea has managed only three.

WE STILL RULE

It doesn't matter if it's Ma Long (world No. 1) or Fan Zhendong (2) or Lin Gaoyuan (9), China is still the strongest team in the world.''

JIANG JIALIANG, former world champion, who is confident that China can maintain their dominance.

Only three non-Chinese have won the men's singles crown - Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner (1992) and South Korean duo Yoo Nam Kyu (1988) and Ryu Seung Min (2004).

The Chinese have never relaxed their grip on the women's singles gold, winning all eight editions from 1988 to last year. It is also all red in the team event, introduced in 2008, as China won every single men's and women's title.

But tremors have been felt as Japan's 17-year-old Miu Hirano won the women's singles at last year's World Cup in Philadelphia and this year's Asian Championships in Wuxi, China, after defeating a string of Chinese rivals, including Ding Ning, the current world No. 1.

The men's singles final at this year's World Cup in Liege, Belgium, was an all-German affair, with Dimitrij Ovtcharov beating Timo Boll, while Ma settled for the bronze.

Six-time Olympian Vladimir Samsonov, who sparred with Singaporean Clarence Chew in yesterday's T2Apac demonstration, believes Japan and Germany's recent success has given others hope the Chinese juggernaut can be toppled.

The 41-year-old Belarusian said: "It's very positive that Europeans have won such an important event. For the sport, I think it's not great if one country dominates all the time.

"We need real competition. Whether it will happen in the future, I don't know but I think it will not be what it was like for the past 10 years, when Chinese players were really winning everything.

"Now, at least there is a chance that some Japanese players can fight against the best Chinese players. Europeans like Boll and Ovtcharov can also do something."

But Jiang has opted to remain calm, saying: "Although Japan and Germany have improved, the Table Tennis World Cup is not the most important tournament. Of course, China hates losing but it is not such a bad thing for the sport if China loses occasionally.

"Fans would love to see different winners and I feel it is fine if China loses a smaller competition once in a while. Japan's recent rise has not really affected the confidence of the Chinese team."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Rivals' rise no threat to Chinese paddlers: Jiang'. Print Edition | Subscribe