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Medalist Gao returns to China as opponent
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Gao Jun, who won a 1992 Olympic silver medal for China in women's doubles table tennis, returns to the land of her birth for the Beijing Olympics at age 39 as a player for the United States.

"It's just going to be exciting when I march in. Beijing will be so good. People will be so excited," Gao said.

"It feels the same. There's no big difference. It's just going to a competition to get my best results."

Gao began playing table tennis at 5 years old and by 9 was selected for a Chinese sports school, where she perfected her skills. She was so small that teachers cut holes in the floor to lower the table so she could play.

"In the mornings we studied, then we practiced, then dinner, homework and practice again. We didn't have too much time to do anything else," Gao said.

"For the first few days I was missing my home very much but after a week it was OK. It's good for the young kids to go. We have a lot of good competition that can make the level go up."

Gao, who gave her Olympic medal to her parents, left China in 1994 and married an American in Las Vegas while at a World Cup event.

"It was no easy decision for me," Gao said. "I felt I was missing something. Table tennis is the only thing I had in my life."

The couple divorced in 2002, two years after Gao became the first US player to win an Olympic match as she made an Olympic comeback.

"I felt so tired and under so much pressure that I wanted to give up on table tennis, but after a few years in the US, I was missing the sport again," Gao said. "After I quit I said, 'Why can't I enjoy it?'

"After 2004 I said it was my last Olympics. But Beijing, I wanted to go. I think now I will stop."

Gao trains at Shanghai University and after helping Americans place 12th at the World Championships, the best US showing since 1989, she has some hope that she can give her best against China's table tennis juggernaut.

"I want to get a medal. But it's hard. If you think you have no chance to get a medal, your performance will suffer," Gao said.

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