by Simon Daish
There are reasons to be optimistic with a fine group of players leading the charge; two in particular will continue to be closely monitored by rivals ahead of the Games.
The ever-reliable stalwart
Chinese Taipei’s main presence on the world stage has more often than not fallen on the shoulders of one man with Chuang Chih-Yuan heralded by many as an icon for his lengthy spell in the sport.
Enjoying an unforgettable year in 2002, Chuang reached the second step of the medal podium at the Asian Games before progressing to win the World Tour Grand Finals crown in Stockholm. In the years since, Chuang’s efforts have yielded four ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles, a noteworthy top four finish at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Chinese Taipei’s first-ever men’s doubles gold alongside Chen Chien-An at the 2013 World Championships in Paris.
Turning 39 in April, Chuang has shown he still has what it takes to compete with the best, claiming victory over another former World Tour Grand Finals champion in Tomokazu Harimoto twice in the early months of 2020. Chuang’s re-emergence bodes well for Chinese Taipei, but it is a player 21 years his junior that is stealing the spotlight.
The rise of Lin Yun-Ju
Great excitement surrounding teenage superstars Tomokazu Harimoto and Wang Chuqin, Chinese Taipei has a young star of its own in Lin Yun-Ju.
Blasting onto the scene 12 months ago, Lin, 18, stunned table tennis fans across the globe with his incredible outing at T2 Diamond Malaysia 2019. Victories over Jun Mizutani, Ma Long, Wong Chun Ting and Fan Zhendong guided Lin to a sensational title win in Johor Bahru. Later in the year Lin produced another fantastic display on the T2 stage, sealing a runner-up finish in Singapore.
The following week Lin added yet another accolade to his collection, becoming the youngest-ever player to take home bronze at the Chengdu Airlines 2019 Men’s World Cup. A talented young man with a promising career ahead, many will be watching Lin’s progress with great interest.
Disappointment to elation
For all the positive news surrounding Chinese Taipei, it has been somewhat of a tough ride for the men’s team since the 2014 World Team Championships bronze.
Expected to pose a threat to the world’s elite teams at the 2016 World Team Championships, 10th seeded Chinese Taipei instead mustered just a single victory, exiting in the group phase of play. A disastrous campaign in Kuala Lumpur was followed by further disappointment for Chinese Taipei’s men’s team, falling at the first hurdle at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Progress was made at the 2018 World Team Championships in Halmstad as Chinese Taipei secured a top 16 finish – an improvement upon its efforts from two years earlier but still no where near its ambitious targets. However, it was all smiles for the team one year later!
Seeded seventh and considered relative outsiders in Tokyo, Chinese Taipei defied expectations to land a highly commendable men’s team bronze medal at the 2019 ITTF Team World Cup. Dubbed a dress rehearsal for the Tokyo Olympic Games, a similar performance at the main event would be extremely well received back home.
Ready for the next step?
Promising signs over the past couple of years, now the question is can Chinese Taipei take the next step? Medal finishes at the Team World Cup and at continental level are welcome achievements, but if the team wishes to strengthen its position as a world force then it will have to produce similar showings on the biggest of stages: the Olympic Games and World Team Championships.
Toppling the Chinese, Japanese and Germans will be a tough ask for Chinese Taipei, but a podium finish at either event shouldn’t be ruled out. An improvement upon its Rio 2016 and Halmstad 2018 showings is a must for the team!