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68OLYMPIC REVIEWSPORTSPROFILES

For latest news go to www.ittf.com or www.olympic.orgOLYMPIC REVIEW69China entered the Games inAthens seeking a thirdsuccessive clean-sweep butthat attempt came to an end inthe last of the finals, the men'ssingles, when South Korea'sRyu Seung Min beat Wang Hao(pictured below). In asensational match, Ryu, theNo.3 seed, triumphed 4-2, butwas quick to praise hisopponent. "Hao is a betterplayer than I am. It is just thathe was under a great dealmore pressure than I was."In the women's singles,China's top seeded ZhangYining (pictured below) beatKim Hyang-Mi of North Korea4-0, having already won thedoubles title 48 hours earlier.Her victory maintainedChina's record of winningevery women'ssingles at theOlympic Games.Along with partner WangNan, Zhang beat Lee Eun Siland Suk Eun Mi of South Koreain straight sets to take thewomen's doublesgold. Chen Qi andMa Lin (picturedtop), were China's third goldmedallists when they beat Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching ofHong Kong 4-2 in the men'sdoubles.Above: Chen Jing of China, who won thewomen's singles gold medal in table tennis'first appearance at the Olympic Games atSeoul in 1988Few sports need such fast reactions as tabletennis, which has 40 million competitive playersacross the world and has been in theprogramme of the Olympic Games since theSeoul Games in 1988. It has become one of the great spectacles of the Games, because ofthe speed at which it is played and theremarkable ability and agility of its players toshare rallies with a ball so small at such aferocious pace.Its roots derive from England in the late 19th Century, where table tennis - or ping pongas it was known, based on the sound of the ball hitting the bat - was an after-dinnerpastime. Often, a row of books was put togetherto make the net, cigar boxes would be used asthe bats and the ball would be a champagnecork. How times have changed. A game that was popular in Central Europe atthe start of the 20th century quickly spread to allparts of the world. Asia - and China in particular- is the dominant force in a sport that promisesto be one of the biggest events in Beijing.FORMATTable tennis will see a major change in Beijingwhen men's and women's doubles are replacedby separate team events. The idea, initiated bythe International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF),was to create greater competition in the latterstages of the draw and eliminate the possibilityof players from the same country facing eachother in the finals. The format will be best of five - similar to the Davis Cup in tennis, with twosingles, a doubles, followed by two singles, withthe exception that a player can compete in onlytwo of the matches in each team contest.Sixteen teams will qualify for the teamcompetition: the host nation, one team fromeach of the six continents and nine others basedon the specific world team ranking prepared bythe ITTF, taking into consideration NOCs with twoor three players qualified for the singles events.A maximum of three men and three women canrepresent a NOC in singles.VENUEEstablished in 1898, Peking University is oneof the oldest universities in China and at theGames its gymnasium will host table tennis. A spectacular arena to the west of the main Olympic Green, the setting will have26,900 square metres of floor space androom for 8,000 spectators (6,000 permanentseats, 2,000 temporary seats). It is a state-of-the-art venue, with a Dome,and two tiers of seating and it will be usedsolely for table tennis during the Games, afterwhich it can be used as a multi-sport arena aswell as for training and recreational usebecause of its size, space and structure. The University building is one of 11 venuesfor the Olympic Games in Beijing and it wasthe 11th in which construction work wasstarted. At least eight tables can be set up atthe same time, allowing an unobstructed viewfrom any part of the gymnasium.CONTENDERSChina dominates the world rankings as theGames edge closer. Wang Liqin, the bronze medallist from Athens, regained thetop spot, once more having underlined hiscredentials as one of the greatest players ofall time when he won the WorldChampionships in Zagreb in May 2007 forthe third time, and he now has ten worldtitles to his name. In Sydney in 2000 he wondoubles gold and at the age of 30, he will be one of the stars in Beijing. Besides his always-dangerous team-mates, Ma Lin and Wang Hao, the Europeanchampion Timo Boll ofGermany will also have hiseyes on the gold medal. In abrilliant performance Bollshocked the Chinese whenhe defeated their top ranked players insuccession to win the World Cup in 2005.Zhang Yining has been leading the women'srankings as she prepares her challenge toretain her Olympic title on home soil.However, team-mate Guo Yue, who defeatedZhang in the semi-finals on her way towinning the 2007 World Championships inZagreb, will also be a serious contender forthe Beijing gold medal. Other rivals could befrom Singapore, who in June 2007dominated the 17th CommonwealthChampionships in Jaipur, India. Above: Timo Boll of Germany is capable of beating the top Chinese menBelow: China's Wang LiqinATHENSREVIEWTABLE TENNIS