Wang Hao (L) and Wang Nan
China is testing its Olympic paddlers by introducing their teammates as rivals at a warm-up tournament in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, just 10 days ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.
The women's Olympic team, comprising Zhang Yining, Guo Yue, Wang Nan plus the nominated reserve Li Xiaoxia, will take part in a round-robin team competition with three other teams, featuring fourth-ranked Guo Yan and few other rising stars who did not make the Olympic team.
A round-robin team competition will replace the doubles event for both men and women at the Olympics. The competition involves three players playing four singles and one doubles match.
Other teams in the competition include some excellent young players like the 18th-ranked Liu Shiwen and 31st-ranked Ding Ning, who will hopefully become China's main force in the future, said Liu Fengyan, director of the National Table Tennis and Badminton Center under the State Sports Administration of China.
"Young players will learn a lot from competing with the top stars," Liu said. "Meanwhile, the Olympians are supposed to discover their shortcomings and make necessary improvements at the last moment."
The men's Olympic team will play elimination round with three other teams which imitate the styles of major foreign rivals such as South Korea and Germany, the Chinese Table Tennis Association said in a statement.
The trio of Wang Hao, Ma Lin and Wang Liqin will also face challenges from their teammates in singles matches.
The association said that the non-Olympic players who win three matches here will be fielded in the singles competition at the world championships next year.
"The idea was to encourage young players to try their best to upset the top stars, making the warm-up competition more difficult for the Olympic team," said Liu.
"We must be prepared for difficulties at the Beijing Olympics because foreign opponents will never give up easily at the quadrennial Games," he added. "Chinese paddlers set a high requirement for themselves but pressure should not turn into jitters."
Jitters against foreign challengers sometimes get the better of the Chinese. Wang Hao lost to a fired-up and more composed Ryu Seung-min of South Korea in the singles final at the Athens Games four years ago.
Liu said that Chen Jing, women's singles gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Games, has been working as a psychologist for the men's team.
Chen has the experience of winning and losing in major international competitions and is now a psychology professor, he said.
(Shanghai Daily July 29, 2008)