Japan poise to be serious challengers to China's dominance in table tennis

2016-08-18 03:19:36 GMT2016-08-18 11:19:36(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- China re-stated dominance in the Olympic table tennis competitions, as Japan, with Tokyo to host the next Games in four years, showed potential of challenging the all-time leaders in the meanwhile.

After bagging the men's team title on Wednesday, the Chinese paddlers wrapped up a second straight defending campaign in Rio by taking away all possible medals to live up to the reputations of "Kingdom of Table Tennis" where people view it as "National Sport" .

In four finals, the sport's powerhouses occupied the top podium for as many times with also clinching the silvers in two singles events.

The total number of gold medals won by China has rised to 28 out of 32 titles on offer since table tennis was introduced to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

And two members of the team, Ma Long and Ding Ning, completed their respective Grand Slam request with victories in Rio, adding to the London supreme victors Zhang Jike and Li Xiaoxia.

Head coach of the Chinese women's team Kong Linghui, however, started pondering the challenge China may face in four years as the 2020 Game hosts Japan keep mounting on in strength of table tennis while his own team will have to play Olympics with new blood.

"Me and Li Xiaoxia, we were watching the third and doubles game on the side court, and talked about what the situations will be in four years," he said after Tuesday evening's women's team final won briefly by China 3-0 over Germany. "It'll definitely not be this easy."

"I mean, Germany is a great team, but Japan could be much tougher an opponent when Tokyo stages the Olympic Games," added Kong, who sent his thoughts to the next Olympics four years later even before the last bounced ended off the table in Rio.

Losing two games to fail Japan in their semifinal encounter with Germany, Mima Ito, just 15 years old, sparkled in the third-place play-off one day later, winning two key points to help the former Olympic team secure a bronze.

The teenage sensation, emerging as the cream of the crop in last year's world championships after reaching the singles quarterfinals, now ranks world No. 9 with incredible fine results from ITTF Tours including two singles titles in 2015.

And with her age, Ito could be expected to launch a very long-time confrontation against China, whose core players of Rio squad Li Xiaoxia, now 28, has already announced to retire after the Olympics, with Ding Ning turning 30 years and Liu Shiwen 29 at Tokyo 2020.

In fact, the Japanese women's team has already been the top opponents of China in the past four years, having reached almost all big finals of international competitions but the one of the Rio Olympics.

Their counterparts of men's side achieved even more glorious results in the Rio Games, settling for a first ever team silver after Jun Mizutani made history of Japan's male paddlers by winning a bronze in the singles.

With Koki Niwa, 21 years old, and Maharu Yoshimura, 23, in the men's side, Japan, who have dedicated in searching and nursing ping pang talents on local basis for decades, may welcome the best chance to rebuild their high-light moment at Tokyo 2020.

Germany, unexpected finalists of women's team and the eventual men's team bronze medalists, could also turn out serious challengers to China in the next four years, alongside with other catch-ups as the men's sides of South Korea and Hong Kong, China, as well as Singapore and DPR Korea on women' s part.

"Japan have been on our list of main opponents for a long time. And I'm sure that they'll be better in four years," commented Deputy Chef de Mission of China Cai Zhenhua, former head coach of the Chinese table tennis team about a decade ago.

"In my opinion, however, the next Olympics may also witness world-class paddlers emerging from Europe and South Korea besides the Japanese," he added.

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