Shots with names like the chop, the hit and the kill belie table tennis' genteel British origins as an after-dinner game. Initially promoted as a family recreation, table tennis has been transformed by passionate players and innovative coaches into a high-speed duel with the psychological intensity of chess and the lightning cut and thrust of swordplay. The Godzilla of modern table tennis is China, which has won nine of the 12 gold medals awarded since the event joined the Olympics in 1988.
China's Liu Guoliang (the reigning Olympic and world champion) and teammates Kong Linghui and Liu Guozheng will need all their speed, wits and skill to fend off second seed Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Sweden's Jörgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner. Known as "the Magician," Waldner is, at 34, a decade older than Kong and Liu, but he appears to be in winning form.
In the doubles, China's Kong and Liu, and teammates Wang Liqin and Yan Sen, could be run close by Chinese Taipei's Chang Yuan-Su and Chiang Peng-Lung, and France's Patrick Chila and Jean-Philippe Gatien.
China has so far won all but one of the gold medals awarded in women's table tennis. Can its dominance last? Hard on the top-ranking heels of Wang Nan and Li Ju will be former compatriot Chen Jing, who won gold in 1988, then moved to Taiwan and took silver for her adopted home at Atlanta. In the doubles, Chinese pairs Wang and Li, and Sun Jin and Yang Ying, can't afford to be complacent; Chen Jing and Xu Jing of Chinese Taipei will be doing their utmost to oust them from the top spot.
WHEN TO WATCH
- Singles Sept. 25
- Doubles Sept. 23
- Singles Sept. 24
- Doubles Sept. 22