On August 8, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics concluded. After 17 days of fierce competition, the Chinese team lived up to expectations and again got the gold in this year’s table tennis competition. Expectations? Well, since table tennis was officially added the Olympic Games program in 1988, Chinese teams have taken home the most medals of any country, with 53 total (28 gold, 17 silver, 8 bronze). In fact, Chinese women hold the current record with 9 consecutive golds.
What explains China’s dominance in the sport?
1. “Physical Advantages” or “Just Statistics”?
Two explanations are commonly offered for China’s Olympic table tennis success: some people say that Chinese people’s physiques lend themselves to “small ball” sports, while others argue that with China’s large population there’s naturally a greater chance of finding great athletes.
China’s dominance in the sport, however, is due to neither of these. Following the United Kingdom creating table tennis at the end of the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, similar numbers of people playing table tennis could be found in countries like the United States, everywhere from the competitive level down to recreational play in garages or basements. Table tennis as a sport, however, did not really develop in the west – rather, it remained more as a recreational activity like billiards or table soccer.
例句 (lì jù):
体质 (tǐ zhì): n. physique; constitution
Tā de tǐ zhì hěn hǎo.
他 的 体 质 很 好。
He has a great physique.
Tǐ yù duàn liàn yǒu zhù yú zēng qiáng tǐ zhì.
体 育 锻 炼 有 助 于 增 强 体 质。
Physical exercise can help improve one’s physique.
In China, however, this “game” was taken much more seriously, and elite training institutions and systems emerged that developed it to the utmost over more than half a century to the top of the international level. In short, it was neither innate physical qualities nor sheer numbers, but rather the attention and intention put on the sport in China.
2. The Awakening and Rise of Chinese Table Tennis
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country began to attach great importance to the development of sports. Table tennis was a great entry point, greatly accessible for a large number of people and requiring little financial overhead or personal investment. As such, many table tennis facilities began to appear in both urban and rural areas, and the sound of “ping-pong” began to echo throughout the halls.
With grassroots support table tennis’ popularity boomed, and a group of talented athletes began to emerge. In 1952, the Chinese table tennis team was formally established. In fact, China’s first world championship came in table tennis, when in 1959 at the 25th World Table Tennis Championships Rong Guotuan from Zhuhai won the men’s singles match 3:1. The people of still-developing China found great encouragement in Guotuan’s feat, declaring table tennis as a “national ball”, and ensuring the sport’s long-lasting popularity in the country.
例句 (lì jù):
冠军 (guàn jūn): n. champion
Wǒ xià dìng jué xīn yào yíng dé guàn jūn.
我 下 定 决 心 要 赢 得 冠 军。
I am determined to become champion.
Zhōng guó pīng pāng qiú duì lǚ cì duó dé shì jiè guàn jūn.
中 国 乒 乓 球 队 屡 次 夺 得 世 界 冠 军。
The Chinese table tennis team has repeatedly won the world championship.
3. Diligence in Training
Everyone inside (and many outside) China knows how strong the Chinese table tennis team is, but few actually know about the lives of team members over the years.
Beyond the glow of competition floor dominance, each and every national team table tennis player bears the markings of hardships endured over long, intensive, and unforgiving careers. Wang Nan, who holds more than a dozen world champions, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005, but even during her treatment she continued to actively prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Her persistence paid off, and she ended up taking home one gold and one silver.
“Big Devil” Zhang Yining once had 13 injections into his ribs to seal them off in order to be able to play. “Tibetan Mastiff” Zhang Jike also suffers from chronic lower back injuries; likewise, due to how much the elbow undergoes when playing table tennis, Liu Shiwen had elbow surgery leading up to the Olympics, and after a difficult recovery, she was back on the court.
4. Leading Techniques
After returning to world table tennis in 1971, the Chinese table tennis team was crushed by Hungary and Japan in 1979, and also experienced the low of a 5:0 shutout by the Swedish team, led by Waldner, in 1984.
However, the spirit of the coaches and team members had been preserved from generation to generation, and instead of giving up coaches racked their brains to innovate the style of play.
The first “high toss serve” in international competition was played by China’s Xu Shaofa, and the “straight-back” technique he discovered was carried forward by Liu Guoliang and defeated the “Big Devil” Waldner. The Chinese team is also known to employ the “stomping serve” tactic, masking the sound of the paddle hitting the ball when serving and providing a quick advantage over the opponent on the receiving end.
Leading up to the establishment of supremacy on the international table tennis stage in 2000, almost every reappearance of Chinese table tennis brought with it a new breakthrough in table tennis techniques.
例句 (lì jù):
碾压 (niǎn yā): v. to overwhelm; to crush
Zhè chǎng bǐ sài tā qǔ dé le niǎn yā xìng de shèng lì.
这 场 比 赛 他 取 得 了 碾 压 性 的 胜 利。
He achieved an overwhelming victory in this game.
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