South Korea won the women's team bronze medal in the Olympic table tennis competition in Beijing on Sunday, after steamrolling over a tenacious Japan 3-0.
The bronze medal contest, which was an exact repeat of a group stage clash between the Asian powers, dealt a heavy blow to Japan's hope for an end to its Olympic table tennis medal drought.
South Korean chopper Kim Kyung-ah, who won a singles bronze medal at the Athens Games, beat Sayaka Hirano 11-5, 11-4, 7-11, 12-10 though the Japanese caused some trouble, using fast attacks.
The crowd cheered as Fukuhara Ai took to the table against former Chinese Dang Ye-seo. Whenever the Japanese star fell behind, the enthusiastic fans chanted "Fuyuan Ai Jia You", or "Go Fukuhara Ai".
A boy shouted "Take it easy", drawing laughter from the crowd. But noisy fans failed to pull their idol through, who lost to the lower-ranked opponent 11-4, 13-12, 7-11, 11-3.
Kim then paired with Park Mi-young in the doubles, quickly finishing off Hirano and Haruna Fukuoka 11-6, 11-8, 13-11.
Both the winners and losers burst into tears.
"We really wanted to win the bronze medal because we have never won an Olympic medal for Japan and it is the last Games for our coach," Fukuhara told reporters, with tears coming to her eyes.
She confirmed Saturday that Japanese women's head coach Kinji Kondo, who was 65 and had 12-year teaching experience in the national team, would retire after the Beijing Olympics.
"We came here hoping for a medal but the South Koreans played better than expected," Kondo said.
Japan, which has never won an Olympic table tennis medal since the sport was introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games, finished third three times at the biennial world team championships between 2004-2008, while the last medal South Korean women got at the worlds was in Osaka, 2001.
"We were very sad about our loss to Singapore in the semifinal, but we regained confidence and were well prepared for the match against Japan," Kim said.
China's formidable women, undefeated since the start of the Olympic tournament, take on Singapore in their final later Sunday.
(Xinhua News Agency August 17, 2008)