The all-mighty Chinese table tennis team, which had come to Athens in pursuit of another clean sweep of all Olympic golds, suffered a major upset Wednesday afternoon as one of their ace pairs was shut out of the quarterfinals of men's doubles.
After winning the opening game, Kong Linghui/Wang Hao conceded the following four to Swedish veterans Jan-Ove Waldner/Jorgen Persson in the Galatsi Olympic Hall in northwest Athens. The scores of the games were 11-8, 6-11, 9-11, 9-11 and 10-12.
This was the first appearance of the powerful Chinese duo, formed by Sydney singles champion Kong and 2003 pro-tour final singles winner Wang, in the doubles competition as they enjoyed a bye in the first two rounds due to their high seeding position in the tournament.
"The Swedes had a better backhand play than us today, and we also didn't play as fast and ferocious as our opponents did," said the 21-year-old Wang, who was participating in the Olympic Games for the first time.
"And the Swedes were lucky at some crucial points in the last game," he added.
Chinese team head coach Cai Zhenhua couldn't be reached for comments immediately.
"We know we have a very good chance against Kong and Wang," said Waldner, a table tennis legend who was the first "grand slam" winner of singles titles in world championships, World Cup and also the Olympic Games. "We lost to them some months ago, but we had a 9-7 lead in the last set."
"This is the Olympic Games, not pro tours or something. In protours you have two or three matches to play, but here you are finished if you lose one match," said Waldner. "The Chinese have everything to lose and they must beat us to win the champion, but we have nothing."
When they took their last winning point, the Swede veterans embraced each other with great excitement and the Sweden team coach raised his arms with a clenched fist shouting "yes!" An overjoyed European crowd cheered loudly for the first victory the European paddlers had taken against China.
In Tuesday's singles matches, Chinese players beat all three European veterans they met to book a berth in the last 16.
Waldner, who is already participating in the Olympics for the fifth time, said that he felt he had found back the excellent form he had four years ago in Sydney, when he met Kong in the singles final and finally got a silver.
He is going to play Chinese paddler Ma Lin in a singles last 16playoff scheduled for Wednesday evening.
For 29-year-old Kong, the Wednesday loss was a bitter farewell to the Olympic Games, which he had participated in for three times. Kong, also a grand slam winner of singles titles, was dubbed "KingKong" in the prime time of his career.
But the young Chinese star Wang still had more chance to prove himself. Also competing in the singles, Wang will play Lin Ju of Dominica later Wednesday.
"After losing in the doubles, I shall concentrate on my singles matches and try my best to achieve some good results," said Wang.
The other Chinese duo, Ma Lin/Chen Qi saved some face for China as they beat Dutch pair D. Heister/Trino Keen 4-2 on a table next to Kong/Wang and entered the last 16.
The Chinese had turned the men's doubles final in Sydney 2000 into a domestic affair, prompting the International Table Tennis Federation to adopt new Olympic draw rules which order two pairs from the same association be drawn to the same half in the tournament.
(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2004)