by Kabir Nagpal
Kong Linghui v Liu Guoliang
It is always good to remember that whatever happens today in sport is inspired from the days gone by. The classic rivalry between two Chinese superstars Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang stretches far back.
However, at the Olympic Games, it was Liu who secured the gold first in the men’s singles at Atlanta in 1996, winning 3-2 (21-12, 22-24, 21-19, 15-21, 21-6) against compatriot Wang Tao, after Kong had been eliminated in the round of 16. There was a balance of medals four years later, when Kong beat Jan-Ove Waldner in the final (21-16, 21-19, 17-21, 14-21, 21-13) who beat Liu in the semi-finals.
Europe’s finest v China
Ever since 1990’s, the distinction between the style of play for European and Chinese athletes is one for a debate at the bar. Initially, the fast-paced moves of the Chinese caused problems for the Europeans but as technology advanced their power turned the tables.
Especially in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Europeans showcased another level of challenge given their home crowd backing. A certain Jan-Ove Waldner from Sweden defeated all odds – and the Chinese pace – to not only reach the final but also win the gold medal. It just so happened that his opponent was also a European – the Frenchman Jean Philippe Gatien saw off China’s Ma Wenge 3-2 (20–22, 22–20, 21–16, 12–21, 21–13) in the semi-final, in what was a landmark victory for the entire continent.
Deng Yaping v Chen Jing
Two of Asia’s finest female athletes were bound to clash with one another in the Olympic Games at some point – and boy were there some fireworks!An intense rivalry unfolded between China’s Deng Yaping and Chinese Taipei’s Chen Jing in the women’s singles final in 1996.
Chen was previously a winner at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, the first occasion when table tennis had been staged in the multi-sport event – four years later in Barcelona, Deng won. In 1996 in Atlanta, the two Olympic champions met in the final. It was crunch time and the contest went the full five games distance, the deciding fifth game underlined the incredible mental strength of Deng Yaping, who won 21-5!
Japan v Germany
In the modern era, two teams have rarely had such an equal level of high octane drama and battle-worthiness than the women’s and men’s teams from Japan and Germany. It is a rivalry that dates back to the men’s team clash at Beijing, 2008, there is little to choose between these two. That is quite literal by the way – the current score is 2-2 when you consider that Japan have recorded back-to-back wins over Germany in the Olympic Games held at London 2012 (women’s team quarter-final) and at Rio 2016 (men’s team semi-final).
These however, were sandwiched between Germany’s wins over Japan in 2008 (men’s team semi-final) and then most recently at Rio 2016 (women’s team semi-final). Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Jun Mizutani have been stalwarts for their respective countries in this rivalry, while the likes of Kasumi Ishikawa and Ai Fukuhara have had to battle hard against Wu Jiaduo in London, and then Petrissa Solja in Rio.
Where will this next chapter in the battle between Japan and Germany lead??
An Asian domestic
Completing our venture into the rivalries is one that is close to home for the Asian contingent and also the hosts of next year’s Olympic Games. Japan’s women’s side has a distinct rival in the face of team Singapore every time they appear at the top competition.
In London 2012, Singapore’s veteran Feng Tianwei saw off Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa in the bronze medal women’s singles match (11-9, 11-6, 11-6, 11-5), which was the chance of a first ever medal for Japan in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games. This was clearly in the minds of the Japan side when they faced Singapore again in the semi-final of the women’s team event – and they did not disappoint.
Recording a 3-0 overall win, it was Ai Fukuhara who first beat Feng Tianwei (11-9, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9) to set the tone, followed by Ishikawa looking for revenge against Wang Yuegu (11-5, 11-6, 11-2). Finally, Sayaka Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa finished the job against Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu (11-3, 13-11, 11-4), making it a medal each in this continental battle.