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China to face stiff competition from Japanese paddlers at Tokyo Olympics  

Japanese Tomokazu Harimoto (in picture) will provide a stiff challenge to Ma Long at Tokyo Olympics
Japanese Tomokazu Harimoto (in picture) will provide a stiff challenge to Ma Long at Tokyo Olympics
Kaushiik Paul
TOP CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 08 Apr 2021
Feature

Ever since table tennis was introduced at the Olympics, China have dominated the sport. Starting from 1988 till the last edition at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the Chinese paddlers have won a whopping 53 Olympic medals – out of which 28 are gold.

The count doesn’t end there. In the World Championships till 2018, China have won a mammoth 395 medals including 140 yellow metals. It clearly shows why China ar called the ‘Ping Pong Powerhouse’.

One of the major reasons behind this domination by China is the huge talent pool that their rivals lack. Such is their crop in the country that even the top players always have to be on their toes so as not to lose their spots to the youngsters.

China have their domination in the world rankings too. While there are five paddlers in the top 10 men’s singles rankings, the women’s section boasts six in the top 10. Although China have qualified for all the five events, the federation is yet to announce the final squad for Tokyo Olympics.

With the Tokyo Olympics just a few months away, everybody expects the Chinese to gun for glory once again in July-August. But will they be able to hold on to their supremacy in Tokyo, that remains a question. There are reasons for that.

The reasons are current World No.5 Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan and Brazilian Hugo Calderano, Mattias Falck of Sweden and Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany in the men’s singles category. Calderano is also the first Latin American player to crack the world top ten.

Tomokazu Harimoto poses major threat to Ma Long

Long, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion, has never lost against the likes of Calderano, Falck and Ovtcharov in recent times. But his only competition could be in the form of Japanese teen sensation Harimoto.

The 17-year-old, with unmatchable talent and persistence, has taken the whole world by surprise with his giant-killing ability and is becoming one of the talking points in recent sporting scenarios. Since June 2018, Harimoto has played in six ITTF tournament finals – five of them against Chinese opponents – winning four.

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For the record, Harimoto has triumphed over his legendary opponent, Long, twice in the last six years – the latest being in the 2019 World Cup semifinals. The youngster was also in raging form in Doha. Although he lost in the WTT Contender semifinals, the Japanese made up for that loss with a title victory in the WTT Star Contender.

Japanese Mima Ito has been in raging form off late

Similarly, the only threats to China in the women’s singles are from Japanese World No.2 Mima Ito and World No.10 Kasumi Ishikawa. Ito, in particular, has been in brilliant form in Doha, winning both the WTT Star Contender and WTT Contender top honors and could pose a serious threat to World No.5 Ding Ning’s quest to third Olympic medal.

Ning’s last silverware came at the 2018 World Cup. Apart from Ning, the others from China in women’s singles top ten are Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha, Wang Manyu, Zhu Yuling and Liu Shiwen.

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With so much on offer and only two players allowed per NOC for the singles event, the competition may be fierce for China internally as to who they want to send for the Tokyo Olympics. Defending champions Long and Ning are certain to make the cut.

In the mixed doubles – the event will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo – China could face stiff competition again from Japanese Mizutani Jun and Ito, Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem, and Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching

According to the Olympic guidelines, if a three-member men’s and women’s teams have already qualified from one country, the mixed doubles pair has to include a member of that team.

Published 08 Apr 2021, 11:19 IST
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