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Chinese table tennis team expects toughest Olympics
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The daunting Chinese table tennis national team played down the home advantage and expects the toughest ever Olympic Games as it opens in Beijing next Friday.

"It's the first time that the Olympic Games are to be held on home soil and the Chinese people are having even higher expectations on us," Huang Biao, team leader of the Chinese team, told Xinhua via telephone on Friday.

"All good things can turn into bad ones if wrongly handled, so does the home advantage," he said, "Some players may get better motivated in front of home fans, and some may have to cope with much more tensity and pressure. We have to look out of it."

Table tennis, regarded as the national sport in China, has been put under the spotlight of the Chinese delegation since it was firstly introduced to the Olympic Games as official events in 1988. The Chinese have collected 16 out of 20 ping pong gold medals on offer since.

The only missing gold in the Athens Olympic Games four years ago was the men's singles title. Then rising star Wang Hao, world No. 1 in the latest world rankings, suffered a surprising loss to Ryu Seung Min of South Korea in the final.

Huang admitted that the men's singles event may come out the toughest one, especially for the Chinese players under the pressure of playing on home turf.

"China won only two gold medals in the men's singles events in the previous five Olympics. That's for sure an unsatisfactory result for the country having cradled so many masters in the sport," said the manager.

"Also there are much more established players who have skills and tactics as good as the all-time leading Chinese (in the men's singles)," he added, "But by no means can we play down the importance of other events while emphasizing the challenges and difficulties in the men's singles."

In the seeding lists released by world table tennis ruling body ITTF for the Olympic team events, both the Chinese men and women teams are seeded top among 16 teams respectively, followed by Germany, South Korea and Hong Kong on the men's part while Singapore, Hong Kong of China and South Korea for the women's.

Top four seeded teams will not play games between each others until the semifinals.

"Among the four Olympic events, the Chinese table tennis team give specific regards to the team events, since they go first and will have positive or negative impact with good or bad results," said Huang.

It's the first time that table tennis introduces team events in the Olympic history, and China have fielded an unprecedented squad including both the men's and women's world 1-2 in the rankings.

Wang Hao, who claimed the first ever world champion in his career last year in the men's World Cup, leads the men's team also including three-time world champion Wang Liqin and quartet World Cup holder Ma Lin, the current second-ranked man in the world.

In the women's part, defending champion and world No. 1 Zhang Yining will cooperate with teenage reigning world champion Guo Yue and veteran Wang Nan with 18 world titles in hands.

(Xinhua News Agency August 2, 2008)

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