by Simon Daish
The Olympic flag was passed onto Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at the Rio 2016 closing ceremony, marking the end of the 2016 Olympic Games and the start of preparations for the Games in four years’ time in Tokyo.
With the dominance of the Chinese Table Tennis team in Rio, here’s a look at who to keep an eye on leading up to Tokyo 2020.
Before Rio 2016 had even begun, a big surprise had arisen in the Chinese squad selection as 19-year-old Fan Zhendong was omitted from Team China. Currently ranked number two in the world, Fan has already achieved a great deal of success becoming World Junior Champion in 2012, winning two Asian Championship gold medals (2015) and six ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles titles.
Fan also won the 2014 Youth Olympic Table Tennis Men’s Singles gold and finished as runner-up to Ma Long at the 2015 Men’s World Cup in Halmstad (Sweden). With Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Xu Xin playing for China at Rio 2016 there was no room for Fan Zhendong to compete at the Games, but having registered victories against both Zhang and Xu along with beating the likes of Jun Mizutani and Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Fan’s chances of reaching Tokyo 2020 are looking positive.
Mima Ito: the Japanese superstar Table Tennis player who can’t stop breaking records. Ito is the youngest player to win ITTF Cadet and Junior titles, alongside being the youngest winner of ITTF Senior doubles and singles trophies. Mima Ito also became the youngest competitor to win a Table Tennis medal at an Olympic Games, when helping Japan to secure the Women’s Team bronze medal at Rio 2016.
2016 has seen Ito beat Ding Ning (China), Yang Haeun (Korea Republic) and most recently in the bronze medal match Feng Tianwei (Singapore). Maybe it’s too soon to ask the question – could Mima Ito be a serious contender for an Olympic gold medal in four years’ time?
One of the standout performers at Rio 2016 was the host country’s Hugo Calderano who surpassed expectations to reach the quarter-finals of the Men’s Singles tournament. Calderano won bronze at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and has picked up three successive Latin American Championship titles in both the singles and team events.
Victories for Calderano against Andy Pereira (Cuba), Par Gerell (Sweden) and Tang Peng (Hong Kong) saw the Brazilian star book a last eight tie with Jun Mizutani, but unfortunately for Calderano a 2-4 defeat to the Japanese player brought his singles campaign to a halt. Calderano’s Olympic successes have been of huge benefit to his world ranking, climbing over 20 places to 31st.
Kim Song I
DPR Korea player Kim Sing I (22) will be confident of her chances at Tokyo 2020 if selected, after she pulled off a stunning Women’s Singles campaign at Rio 2016. Kim caused an upset in her first match at the Games with a fantastic victory against the number four seed Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan) before adding wins against Chen Szu-Yu (Chinese Taipei) and Yu Mengyu (Singapore). Eventual gold medallist Ding Ning eliminated Kim Song I at the semi-finals stage, but success over Ai Fukuhara in the bronze medal match gave DPR Korea their first Olympic Table Tennis medal since Athens 2004.
The DPR Korea player won her first ITTF World Tour title at the 2016 Pyongyang Open. Kim’s skillful use of defence led to the Rio 2016 bronze medal – will Tokyo 2020 see her move further up the winner’s podium?
Zhu Yuling found herself in a similar situation to Fan Zhendong leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games, being left out of the Chinese squad despite being ranked in the world’s top five. Ding Ning, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen took part in Rio, but with Li announcing her retirement a position may have opened up for Zhu.
With Zhu standing victorious at the 2015 China Open and the the Asian Championships in the same year, the 21-year-old from Mianyang (China) is getting used to picking up silverware. Zhu has shown that she can compete with the very best, overcoming the likes of Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, but does she have what it takes to make China’s team for the next Olympic Games?
Aged just 13, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto is a wildcard choice for Tokyo 2020. However, the teenager has shown enough promise to catch the attention of the Table Tennis world. Harimoto became the youngest player ever to progress to the first round of the Men’s Singles competition at an ITTF World Tour when he impressed at the 2015 Polish Open. Then Harimoto shocked the world by winning the 2016 Japan Open U21 Men’s Singles trophy, with wins over Ho Kwan Kit (Hong Kong), Hugo Calderano (Brazil) and his fellow compatriot Kohei Sambe on his way to the title.
Following solid performances from Japan’s Jun Mizutani, Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura in Rio, Tokyo 2020 could prove one step too far for Tomokazu Harimoto, but nonetheless the 13-year-old has all the potential to go on and become a world class Table Tennis player.