09 Jul 2024

The 2004 Athens Olympics was not just about the ancient charm of Greece; it marked another stunning showcase for table tennis on the Olympic stage. The sport, known for its lightning-fast rallies and strategic subtleties, found a fitting home in the brand new Galatsi Olympic Hal. 

Athens 2004 ushered in a whole new era for the sport. Gone were the days of long, drawn-out matches to 21 points. In their place, a faster, more dynamic format – the 11-point system we know today. Every point mattered, every rally a potential game-changer, electrifying the crowds with its breakneck pace. 

The new format, however, did not diminish the brilliance of established stars. Table tennis icon Jan-Ove Waldner, nearing the twilight of his career, defied expectations with a sensational run to the semifinals. His experience and unwavering determination proved that age is just a number, silencing doubters and reminding everyone why he is a legend. 

But Athens also witnessed the rise of unexpected heroes. In the Women’s Singles, Kim Hyang Mi, a player ranked outside the top 40 just months prior, became a fan favourite. Her aggressive style and never-say-die attitude propelled her all the way to a silver medal, a story that captured the essence of the Olympic spirit.

South Korea returned to the podium in Men’s Singles with Ryu Seung-min claiming gold in spectacular fashion. His victory holds extra significance – it marks the last time a non-Chinese player has won gold in the Men’s Singles event. Ryu Seung-min’s thrilling win over China’s Wang Hao (11-3, -9, 11-9, 9-11, -11, 11-9) remains etched in Olympic memory. 

China, however, asserted its power in the doubles events, securing both gold medals. While Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching’s silver medal run in Men’s Doubles marked a significant milestone for Hong Kong, only their second Olympic medal since first competing in 1952.  

Izzwa Medina, from Honduras, etched her name in Olympic history as the first ever Central American player to compete in table tennis. Proudly carrying the Honduran flag during the opening ceremony, Medina’s journey to Athens was a testament to her dedication and the growing popularity of table tennis in the region. She has inspired a new generation of young athletes in Central America to dream big and chase their table tennis dreams. 

With a faster format, and a mix of veteran brilliance and unexpected champions, Athens cemented table tennis’ place as a captivating and ever-evolving Olympic spectacle. As we look forward to Paris 2024, the spirit of Athens – a spirit of innovation, sportsmanship, and the rise of new stars – continues to inspire. 

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