by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Imposingly, the Chinese duo secured the doubles in four straight games (11-9, 11-2, 11-9), before Zhang Bian accounted for Borislava Peric-Rankovic (11-9, 11-6, 11-7).
“This is my fourth consecutive team gold”, said Gu Gai. “Rio 2016 is different because we play the doubles before the singles; each of us takes cares of just one quarter of the table, it was a really close match as the Serbian pair is good.”
I’m not so sure that Gu Gai is correct; my count is three; she won in 2008 in Beijing when partnering Gu Xiang, Zhang Bian was also a member of the squad but did not play in the final.
In the five match format (four singles and one doubles) China had won three-one with Gu Gai the one player to experience defeat in the title deciding contest against Germany; she was beaten by Andrea Zimmerman in a titanic duel (4-11, 11-6, 11-8, 4-11, 13-11).
Four years ago, in the same format with, as in Rio de Janeiro and with Zhang Bian, a three-nil win was posted against the Swedish duo of Anna-Carin Ahlquist and Ingela Lundbäck.
Tougher in Rio de Janeiro
“I think the competition is tougher as compared to the previous Paralympic Games in which I have played”, explained Zhang Bian.”The Serbian pair is strong as well, one’s the gold medallist; the other won bronze in Class 4 Women’s Singles.”
Borislava Peric-Rankovic won gold, Nada Matic secured bronze; not only in Rio de Janeiro were the Serbians facing players of quality, they were also facing Class 5 opponents, players with lesser degree of disability.
“One of the main differences is that Class 5 player has better balance; so for us, it is difficult when the ball is played short or wide”, explained Borislava Peric-Rankovic who is a fearsome competitor, she is Serbia’s Ding Ning.
She is the most pleasant person you could wish to meet but there is an inner resolve, a will to win; just watch her eyes when she plays, the stare relates the determination.
“However, whoever you play, you must adapt”, added Borislava Peric-Rankovic. “You must just focus and forget about outside influences.”
The Serbians fought but Gu Gai and Zhang Bian held the aces.
“Gu Gai and I have not played against the Serbians for some time, so today we were well prepared physically and mentally, that’s why we won two-nil against them”, said Zhang Bian who, like Gu Gai, is from Pizhou province as are many of the Chinese wheelchair athletes.
Notably Feng Panfeng, whole in Class 3 won both Men’s Singles and Men’s Team gold is from the same province; it is region that suffered from an outbreak of polio on late 1980s.
Two titles for Fang Penfeng; success in Women’s Team Class 4-5 meant two titles for Zhang Bian. Earlier in the week, she had beaten Gu Gai in the Women’s Singles lass 3 final (11-6, 11-6, 11-6).
“I value this Team medal more than the singles gold I won earlier”, added Zhang Bian. “It represents the status of the Chinese women’s team in the wheelchair category; we are the strongest.”
Success for China in a different format to London and there was of course one other difference; in England’s capital city the celluloid ball was used, in Rio de Janeiro it is the plastic ball.
“There has been a lot of changes in the recent few years, but with the help of our team, we have been adapting well”, said Zhang Bian who seemingly had no great problems whatever the material used to produce the spherical object.
“Really for us it is no different at all”, concurred Borislava Peric-Rankovic.
Disappointment for Sweden
Gold for China, alas for Sweden, the runners up in London, there was nothing; Anna-Carin Ahlquist and Ingela Lundbäck suffered a two-one defeat at the hands of Korea’s Kang Oejeong and Jung Younga.
The Koreans secured the doubles (11-9, 11-8, 11-5), Anna-Carin Ahlquist levelled matters by beating Kang Oejeong before (7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-6), before Jung Younga sealed victory with success against Ingela Lundbäck (11-7, 6-11, 11-6, 11-7).