by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Furthermore, they won by three matches to nil and thus maintained their stunning record in the Women’s Team event at an Olympic Games; they have never, at any stage of the competition, since introduced in 2008, lost an individual match.
A proud record and equally Germany could take pride.
They were the first non-Asian outfit to win a medal in the Women’s Team event at an Olympic Games.
Against the awesome might of China, they faced a daunting task. Arguably, the draw was even more daunting; in the opening match, Li Xiaoxia faced the backspin skills of Han Ying; in my view against the defensive art Li Xiaoxia is the most destructive in the world.
Han Ying, to her credit fought and did pose questions in the opening game but Li Xiaoxia had reserves on which to call when crisis beckoned. She won the first game by the minimal two point margin before winning the second comfortably and the third as in the first, turning the screw when danger loomed.
“Li Xiaoxia jia you, Li Xiaoxia jia you” was the call from the Chinese supporters, “Li Xiaoxia play stronger, Li Xiaoxia play stronger”. Li Xiaoxia obeyed the cries, a straight games win was recorded (11-9, 11-3, 11-7).
“We are so excited. We appreciate our coaches our colleagues and everyone who helped us. This is a dream for us. I would like to thank our coaches and spectators for their support. As the first to play today I was still a little nervous at the beginning; it is my first time playing against Han Ying and I was not very familiar with the spin she put on the ball. However, I am confident with my skills against defenders.” Li Xiaoxia
Impressive but for Li Xiaoxia, having played in London and being the silver medallist earlier in the proceedings in Rio de Janeiro in the Women’s Singles event, it was nothing new playing in an Olympic final.
Conversely for Liu Shiwen, even though she is the name at the top of the Women’s World Rankings, it was a new experience, as it was for her adversary Petrissa Solja.
“Unbelievable feeling in my first Olympics; the feeling is impossible to describe; it is crazy that we have just won the silver medal.” Petrissa Solja
However, the status of the occasion held no fears for the 25 year born in Liaoning Province but later resident in Guangdong. She followed the example set by Li Xiaoxia, Liu Shiwen emerged successful in three straight games (11-3, 11-5, 11-4).
“I was nervous at the beginning, since it was my first time to play in Olympic final. I never thought that I would be picked to play in the singles match. Thanks to our team, thanks to Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia, they always encourage me! I also want to thank the other members of our team who have been training hard with us to prepare for Rio. It’s a dream for everyone to win an Olympic medal, so this is perfect.” Liu Shiwen
The doubles next on the agenda, as on every prior occasion, a policy followed by every coach throughout the whole of both the Men’s Team and Women’s Team events, there was no change to the selection.
“It was a bit of a challenge to play the Chinese. The goal was to play the best table tennis in the final; China deserves to win gold and we deserved to win silver.” Shan Xiaona
Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen faced Shan Xiaona and Petrissa Solja; the German duo fought, they did not lie down; they won the third game and in the fourth when reducing the gap to one point at 7-6 down caused Kong Linghui, the Chinese Women’s Team coach, to call “Time Out”. The wise words worked. Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen obeyed orders to win in four games (10-6, 11-5, 9-11, 11-7); jia you, jia you, jia you.
“After losing the fourth game, coach Kong Linghui told us to be more positive and that we were stronger. We also encouraged each other during the match. We are a team so we do everything together and trust each other. Sometimes at this level we don’t think we just play.” Ding Ning
The win meant that in Women’s Table Tennis events at an Olympic Games, Liu Shiwen became the 10th Chinese player to win gold.
Overall in female competition, China has now won a total of 15 titles with 25 gold medals being presented.
They have won the Women’s Singles title on all eight occasions and now the Women’s Team title on all three occasions when the event have been staged.
Only in Seoul
Also they have won the Women’s Doubles title four times. It is only in Seoul in 1988 when they did not complete the clean sweep; on that occasion they had to settle for silver. Chen Jing and Jiao Zhimin were beaten in the Women’s Doubles final by Korea’s Hyun Junghwa and Yang Youngja.
A different era, 28 years later, there was no Seoul repeat; simply awesome, gold medallists and Olympic champions: Ding Ning, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen.