China again swept all four Olympic gold medals in table tennis, just like it did four years ago at home in Beijing.
In fact, men’s coach Liu Guoliang said China has the “homecourt advantage” no matter where it plays.
“In table tennis, wherever it is, we are the hosts,” Liu said after China delivered one of its most pressure-packed gold medals of the London Olympics, completing the sweep with a 3-0 victory on Wednesday over South Korea in the men’s team final.
“Being the hosts in Beijing four years ago, we had some advantages, the good atmosphere,” he added. “You walked into the arena and all the Chinese were supporting us.”
It was that way in the British capital throughout the 12-day table tennis tournament and particularly on Wednesday.
The 6,000-seat area was quilted with hundreds of red-and-yellow Chinese flags and thundering chants of “Jia yo, jia yo [let’s go]!” drummed out the ping, pong, ping, pong.
The sweep was expected and anything less could have prompted shakeups in the government bureaucracy that oversees the sport. Table tennis is the Chinese national pastime and a source of patriotic pride.
China has won 24 of 28 gold medals since the sport entered the Olympics in 1988. The Asians won two gold and two silvers in singles at the London Games.
They could have won more, but nations this time were limited to two singles players instead of three.
China also took the women’s team gold on Tuesday.
China is too good, backed by a state-run sports system that keeps cranking out the world’s best players.
South Korean coach Yoo Nam-kyu, a singles gold-medalist in 1988, suggested some players are beaten just knowing the opponent is Chinese.
“Players might be confident the first time they play China, but when they lose once, twice or 10 times it’s only natural they are already beaten,” he said. “Even if they are not psychologically vulnerable, they are always questioning if they have the same amount of training to compete with their Chinese counterparts.”
China’s Ma Long defeated Ryu Seung-min, the 2004 Olympic singles champion, in the first set of the best-of-five series, which combines singles and doubles.
That set the stage for China’s sweep, with gold medalist Zhang Jike beating Joo Sae-hyuk, followed by the doubles victory to make it 3-0.
Zhang, who struggled to beat Joo, stood in front of the umpire after the match and raised his right fist, a gesture the umpire makes awarding points.
“Because I won that last point, I just wanted to play the role of the umpire to give myself a point,” said Jike, who said from the start he was confident of winning both golds.
Many believe the “real” men’s final came in the semi-finals, when China defeated a stubborn Germany led by Timo Boll, the top-ranked non-China player in the game.
Germany defeated Hong Kong — a team composed of three players born in China — 3-1 to take bronze on Wednesday.
The gold-medal match prompted a large amount of traffic on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Predictably, there was overwhelming support for China’s team, but also comments questioning the cost of winning gold in so many sports. Some called it an “obsession.”
International Table Tennis Federation president Adham Sharara has encouraged China to share its expertise, afraid the world will grow bored of dominance by one country. He said they have been cooperating.