by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Accepted that matches between colleagues may not be a true reflection of status; currently on the Women’s Class 9 World Rankings, Lei Lina is at no.1, Liu Meng at no.5, the outcome was a major surprise.
There were two major reasons, neither was their current World ranking.
Five gold medals
Lei Lina was seeking three in a row; she had won in Beijing and then four years ago in London.
Furthermore in Women’s Team Class 6-10, lining up alongside Liu Meli she had secured gold in Athens in 2004. Later in the same event, again alongside Liu Meli but with Fan Lei, and Hou Chunxiao members of the squad, she had secured the top prize in Beijing in 2008, before repeating the success in London.
In England’s capital city the only change to the selection from Beijing was that Yang Qian replaced Hou Chunxiao.
The difference in Paralympic experience was immense; secondly it was the second time that they had met at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
They met in the group stage in what was for each player their very first match in the whole tournament. Lei Lina won in three straight games (12-10, 11-9, 11-7).
“I feel really happy, it’s unbelievable, it still feels like a dream and a surprise to me”, said Liu Meng. “Even before I was selected for the national team, Lei Lina has always been my idol and role model.”
Lei Lina has been one of this century’s leading Paralympians; most certainly she has set an example for Liu Meng to follow.
“She’s won five Paralympic Gold medals and beat me three-nil earlier in the group stage”, added Liu Meng. “So I can’t believe that I just won three-nil; of course I hope to surpass her achievements, it’s a long way ahead and I am still young.”
Time is on the side of Liu Meng but Lei Lina is only 28 years old; surely she has more Paralympic Games left in her locker?
“We have played against each other for about five to six times before and I have only won once, so today I was really lucky”, added Liu Meng. “Having won so many Paralympic gold medals, she had much more pressure than me, I was also aggressive and able to play my best; this is the only way I could win against her, I had to fight.”
Fight she did and dispelled the once oft thought concept that the Chinese are inscrutable; Liu Meng could have been Latin American!
“Every player in a gold medal match wants to fight for the top prize”, explained Liu Meng. “I really wanted to win, so shouting out was my way to relieve some of my pressure.”
Success and it was a major improvement on four years ago in London when in the group stage she had finished in third place behind Lei Lina and Turkey’s Nesilhan Kavas; thus she had not qualified for the main draw.
“I participated in London, back then I wasn’t playing my best form; today I did; these four years haven’t been smooth, I was upset with my performance in London but that also pushed me forward to win the gold medal today”, explained Liu Meng. “We train in Zhengding together with the able bodied athletes, there’s a table tennis base there, and they are of the level of the provincial team.”
Followed Olympic Games
Success in Rio de Janeiro and was there a source of motivation from another player who one month earlier had performed rather well in the Brazilian city.
“Our whole team were paying close attention to the Chinese team during the Olympic period; we even stayed up late to watch them play”, smiled Liu Meng. “I was cheering for Ding Ning; I think we have very similar styles in our play, we both have a strong fighting spirit and a will to fight for every point, I like this characteristic in her and I can learn from her.”
Disappointment for Brazil
Success for China and France; alas for the home supporters it was disappointment.
In the Women’s Singles Class 9 bronze medal contest, Danielle Rauen won the two games against Poland’s Karolina Pek, before losing the next three (8-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-5).