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China completes Olympic table tennis sweep
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China completed a clean sweep of all four titles in the Olympic table tennis competition here Saturday, living up to the expectations of fans in the world's most populous country who view the sport as a matter of national pride.

The table tennis superpower steamrolled over anyone trying to stand in the way. Home advantage made it powerful enough to claim two team titles and occupy the top three places in both the men's and women's singles events.

China has swept all three table tennis medals only once before, in the women's singles event at the 1988 Seoul Games when the sport made its Olympic debut. At that time, Chinese men were knocked out in the quarterfinals.

Ma Lin, ranked second in the world, clinched the men's singles title by trouncing top-ranked Wang Hao 4-1 in the final late Saturday. It was the 20th table tennis gold medals for China in Olympic history.

Wang, who lost to South Korea's Ryu Seung-min in the final four years ago, was determined to seek revenge in Beijing. However, he disappointedly found Ryu beaten in the 1/16 round and himself turning jittery at clutch moments to lose the final again.

Three-time world champion Wang Liqin won the bronze medal match 4-0 against 42-year-old Swede Jorgen Persson, who had played at six Olympics without winning a medal.

Persson beat Belarussian Vladimir Samsonov, the highest-ranked non-Chinese, in the 1/8 round and Croatia's six-time Olympian Zoran Primorac in the quarterfinal.

European champion Timo Boll failed to reach the last eight in the singles, but helped Germany finish second in the men's team event, after losing to China 3-0. South Korea, led by Ryu, outclassed Austria 3-1 to win the team bronze medal.

China's triumph in the men's singles came a day after its all-conquering women paddlers won all three medals in the singles, a repeat of what Chen Jing, Li Huifen and Jiao Zhimin did 20 years ago in Seoul.

World number one Zhang Yining won her fourth Olympic gold, after beating veteran Wang Nan 4-1 in an all-Chinese final that the winner described as a "perfect ending."

For defending gold medalist Zhang, coming in second is the same as losing, but the loser may have a better understanding of why it was a "perfect ending."

Wang, the sport's most decorated player with more than 20 world titles, believed that competing in the Beijing Olympics and winning a gold medal would be the perfect way to wrap up her sports career.

After winning her fourth Olympic gold in the team event, the 30-year-old showed no signs of slowing down in her drive for another medal in the singles.

World champion Guo Yue brushed aside Beijing-born Li Jia Wei of Singapore 4-2 to finish third. But the color of the medal was a major disappointment for Guo, who had rarely finished lower than second in international singles tournaments in the last two years.

South Korean Kim Kyung-ah, the world's leading defensive player, did not reach the quarterfinals due to an unexpected defeat against former Chinese Wang Chen of the United States.

China clinched the women's team title, after fighting off a strong challenge from Singapore to win the final 3-0.

"Lose or win, we are successful because my team is the best besides China," Singaporean coach Liu Guodong said. The Southeast Asian city-state won its first Olympic medal in 48 years since a silver by weightlifter Tan Howe Liang in 1960.

Japan's hope of ending its Olympic table tennis medal drought was dashed when South Korea downed the Ai Fukuhara-led team 3-0 to win the team bronze medal.

Japanese women finished third three times at the biennial world team championships between 2004-2008, while the last team medal South Korean women got at the worlds was in Osaka, 2001.

Hong Kong of China ended up empty-handed, though its duo of Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching was the runners-up in the men's doubles in Athens and its women's team finished second twice at the world championships in Doha and Bremen.

(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2008)

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