In part two of the Post’s look at China’s 26 gold medal haul at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro ahead of this weekend’s visit to Hong Kong of a 64-strong delegation, table tennis, badminton and volleyball take centre stage.
Ding Ning – Table tennis – Women’s singles
Four years after losing to Li Xiaoxia in the London final, Ding got her revenge and then the emotions got the better of her. “It was a release of pressure after a difficult game,” said Ding, who has won the grand slam in table tennis – the Olympic, World Cup and World Championships gold medals. “After the defeat in London, I was told I was still young but I wasn’t so sure. I am very happy with what I have achieved. I really wanted to win the Olympic gold medal – this has been my dream for a long time – but I am now mature enough to handle the situation, forget about the result and enjoy the process.”
Ma Long – Table tennis – Men’s singles
The world’s best player finally clinched his first Olympic men’s singles title after beating defending champion Zhang Jike in an all-Chinese final. And he did it in emphatic style, winning 4-0. “I have been longing for the day [playing in the final] although I was a bit surprised by the result,” said Ma, who was left out of the singles event at the London Games. “We are good friends – like brothers – but we are competitors. What I wanted to do in the final was to showcase the best part of table tennis through our performance as Zhang has always been a role model in the sport and is also my source of motivation due to his outstanding achievements. I am very happy my Olympic dream has come true.” Ma also became the fifth men’s player after Jan-Ove Waldner, Liu Guoliang, Kong Linghui and Zhang to clinch the table tennis grand slam by winning the Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cup.
Li Xiaoxia, Ding Ning, Liu Shiwen – Table tennis – Women’s team
World number one Liu was overlooked for the singles, but played two matches against Germany in the best-of-five final and won both in a 3-0 victory. Ding and Li were also in the singles final, with Ding beating her compatriot. “I was a bit surprised to play two matches in such an important final as I’ve never won an Olympic medal before,” she said. “I felt a bit uneasy before the first match, but once I settled down, everything went fine.” Li, the 2012 London Games singles champion, announced her retirement from the national team after the final. “Thank you for your support over these years. I have played my last match for the national team and it’s time to move on,” she said.
Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Xu Xin – Table tennis – Men’s team
Although Xu Xin lost one match to Jun Mizutani of Japan in the final, no other team could come close to beating China in the best-of-five competition. Ma Long, the best player in the world, claimed two points with Xu and Zhang Jike winning the doubles for a 3-1 win. “It has been 12 tough days and probably the most difficult 12 days in my career,” said Ma, who was earlier crowned the singles champion. “But it will also become a sweet memory for the rest of my life.”
Fu Haifeng, Zhang Nan – Badminton – Men’s doubles
China swept all five badminton golds at the London Games, but they had to wait until 2012 London champion Fu and new partner Zhang Nan scraped home in the doubles. “This is a great result. making up for my loss in the mixed doubles. I have two great partners – Zhao Yunlei [mixed doubles] and Fu,” Zhang said. “I will work harder in the new Olympic cycle for Tokyo in 2020.” Zhao revealed after securing a bronze medal in the mixed doubles that she and Zhang had divorced before the Olympics. “I chose to stay in the team for four more years after winning a gold at the London Games and this is the best reward,” said Fu. “There has been pressure during these years, mainly from myself as I seek perfection.”
Chen Long – Badminton – Men’s singles
A bronze medallist at the London Games, Chen overpowered Malaysian ace Lee Chong Wei in the final and is now widely considered the new king of badminton with fellow countryman Lin Dan and Lee about to retire. “The men’s team has been under great pressure since we lost the Thomas Cup in May,” Chen said. “And it was not until our victory in the men’s doubles in Rio that we were able to regain our confidence. Lee is 34 and had the burden of trying to win the first gold for his country, which was not easy for him.”
The Lang Ping-inspired team rose to the Olympic occasion after losing three matches in the group stage, including a 3-0 defeat by Serbia. But a shock victory over hosts Brazil, followed by the Netherlands gave them the momentum and confidence to turn the tables on Serbia in the final and lift the precious team gold for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games. “There is trust among the players and that’s why we could regroup after a disastrous group stage,” said captain Hui Ruoqi. “I also never gave up after heart surgery. I am very honoured. The spirit of Chinese women’s volleyball has returned and it’s our responsibility to pass that spirit on, not only to the next generation of players, but also to society.”