Tears from Sayaka Hirano (left) and Kasumi Ishikawa (right) after beating Singapore
Photo By: An Sung Ho
Tears flooded down the faces of Sayaka Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa as they hugged each other in delight on the evening of Sunday 5th August in London’s ExCeL Arena.
At the semi-final stage of the Women’s Team event at the London 2012 Olympic Games, they had combined to win the doubles contest that secured victory against Singapore and booked Japan a place in the final.
It was a special moment, a special moment in history for Japan; for the very first time the flag of the rising sun would be hoisted at an Olympic Games table tennis medal ceremony.
Furthermore, the win meant the medal would be either gold or silver.
The country which has given table tennis so much, has provided World and Continental champions by the score; at last had an Olympic medal.
Soon after the success, Ai Fukuhara joined her team mates in a victory hug and tears of joy.
Even the stoic, reserved Yazakazu Murakami, the Head Coach of the Women’s Team, who usually sits passively during matches, never showing any emotion, leapt from his seat time and again as Sayaka Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa inched every closer to victory.
Likewise he was emotional; when that last point was secured he was full of smiles; then when he saw his trio hug each other, he could hold back the tears.
It was a special moment, an Olympic moment and captured by the cameras of BBC Television for the world to see; the final was broadcast on the world feed; it went global.
Favourites Not Really
The seeding suggested it was an expected result; Japan occupied the no.2 seeded place behind China. Singapore held the no.3 seeded place.
However, in Beijing four years earlier, Singapore had won the silver medal in the Women’s Team event with exactly the same team that was fielded in the ExCeL Arena and of course in 2010 they had been crowned World champions. The only difference to the team of two years earlier being that Li Jiawei was on duty in London as in Beijing, not Sun Beibei.
Furthermore, when the draw was published matters favoured Singapore.
Feng Tianwei faced Ai Fukuhara in the first match; in the second it was Wang Yugu against Kasumi Ishikawa.
In the encounters prior to the London Olympic Games, Ai Fukuhara had beaten Feng Tianwei once in seven encounters on the international scene and that was five years earlier at the Eurosib Russian Open in St Petersburg in 2007.
Otherwise, Feng Tianwei had always won and she had won their most recent meeting; just over one month earlier, Feng Tianwei had beaten Ai Fukuhara in the semi-finals of the Women’s Singles event at the GAC GROUP 2012 ITTF World Tour Brazil Open in Santos.
Never Won Prior to Games
Equally, prior to the Olympic Games, Kasumi Ishikawa had never beaten Wang Yuegu in a World ranking event; the win over the Singaporean in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Singles event a few days earlier at the London 2012 Olympic Games was somewhat of a watershed.
In the Women’s Team final, history counted for naught; neither did logic.
Ai Fukuhara beat Feng Tianwei in the opening match in four games (11-9, 11-6, 6-11, 11-9) before Kasumi Ishikawa followed suit by overcoming Wang Yuegu in three straight games (11-5, 11-6, 11-2).
It was a stunning start and it was a stunning finish.
Sayaka Hirano joined forces with Kasumi Ishikawa for the doubles contest. They won the first game but in the second they trailed 8-10.
Was there to be a Singaporean recovery as there had been in Dortmund at the LIEBHERR World Team Championships earlier in the year when they had trailed Germany by two matches to nil before Li Jiawei saved the day against Kristin Silbereisen and Singapore escaped.
Not in London
It was not to happen in London.
Sayaka Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa saved the two games points, before at their second attempt securing the game. They were two games to nil ahead;
Singaporean hearts were broken, the Japanese duo went from strength to strength, they won the game in style, in straight games (11-3, 13-11, 11-4).
It was time to rejoice.
In the final Japan meets the winners of the duel between China and Korea; the contest will be played on at 10.am (British Summer Time) on Monday 6th August.
All smiles from the Japanese Women’s Team after an emotional experience
left to right: Ai Fukuhara, Kasumi Ishikawa, Sayaka Hirano, Yazakazu Murakami
Photo by An Sung Ho