The Race To Represent Team China At The Tokyo Olympic Games

Who will represent Team China in Tokyo? (Photo: ITTF)

Analysis by Matthew Daish

As the world celebrates the start of a New Year, table tennis fans are positively reminded that 2021 has something very special to offer: the Toyko Olympic Games!

However, the postponement of the Games from its initial starting date (2020) have made things difficult for the nations taking part; the entire selection process for each federation will have been disrupted due to the lack of competitive match exposure for each of their available table tennis players.

In Team China’s case, the choice of selection for the Men’s Singles and Team events have been somewhat blurred due to the fact there were only three tournaments that took place following the March 2020 shut down of the international scene due to COVID-19.

With that being said though, there does seem to be at least one player who hasn’t been adversely affected by the long absence away from the table – current World No.3, Ma Long, AKA ‘The Dragon’!

Ma, 32, continued to show his dominant edge upon his return at the #RESTART events, demolishing the opposition to claim two of the three tournaments that were run in the latter half of 2020.

In addition to his title successes at the 2020 ITTF Grand Finals and WTT Macao, Ma made his case for a position in the Olympic squad even more prominent by collecting the runner up medal at the ITTF Men’s World Cup, showing he is a force to be reckoned with!

With 2020 boasting nothing but strong results for Ma then, I think we can say with a high degree of certainty that ‘The Dragon’ will be representing Team China in both the Men’s Singles and Team events at the 2021 Games – but who will be joining him in his quest for Olympic Gold?

Fan Zhendong is well placed to make his Olympic Games debut in Tokyo (Photo: ITTF)

The second obvious choice would appear to be current World No.1, Fan Zhendong, who showcased his mettle to the world in November 2020 with his third consecutive gold medal finish at the ITTF Men’s World Cup. In addition to his shiny new trophy, the 23-year-old concluded his 2020 campaign with a respectable silver medal at the ITTF Finals.

A man who produced some fine performances last year, while also happening to be the highest-ranking player in the world, it seems very unlikely that Fan will be denied the opportunity to represent Team China in either the Singles or the Team categories at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Therefore, with China’s Men’s Singles tickets leaning towards Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, there is just one last position to be decided – the country’s third entry in the Team event. Who will claim the third and final spot in the Chinese Olympic Table Tennis squad for Tokyo?

The answer to this question is somewhat of a guessing game. It’s fair to say that fans will be hoping to see World No.2 and penhold grip sensation Xu Xin (AKA ‘The Cloud walker’) take part. Xu has Olympic experience in the Team event, and has proven to be a dangerous doubles partner in recent years, making him a strong choice for the Team event. He is, I would also add, perhaps one of the most talented table tennis players on the international circuit!

Keep an eye out for Xu Xin in the early part of 2021 (Photo: ITTF)

Xu Xin, however, only gained selection to represent his nation at two of the three international table tennis events last year and failed to perform to his best in either.

In the eyes of the critical few, he fell short of expectations after being eliminated from both tournaments by lower ranked individuals. Most notable of Xu’s defeats arrived at the hands of unseeded Swede, Mattias Falck at the WTT Macao event in November. That being said, Xu did reach the closing stages of the ITTF Finals, which could just prove a saving grace for the ‘Cloudwalker’.

Aside from Xu Xin, there are a few other suitable and appealing candidates for the position – one of which is Wang Chuqin.

Only 20 years old, and having reached the final showdown against Ma Long at WTT Macao, Wang is poised for a bright future in the sport and is thus a notable and fierce contender for the last spot on the Chinese Olympic Table Tennis squad.

On the other hand, Wang’s World Ranking of 14th is perhaps, in comparison to most of the other top Chinese players, simply too low to warrant him a position on the team. It also would appear that the young Chinese player was never intended to represent his country at the WTT event last November – his fellow compatriot, Fan Zhendong, mysteriously pulled out from the tournament prior to its start, freeing up a space for the Chinese youngster.

As a result, I would personally be surprised to see Wang Chuqin earn selection over Xu Xin for the Chinese Table Tennis team at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Finally, due at least to their high world rankings, we must look at two other candidates who find themselves in a strong-fighting position for the final place in the squad: Lin Gaoyuan (World No.4) and Liang Jingkun (World No.9).

Despite his high ranking, it doesn’t appear, in my eyes, that China is looking to field Liang in the forthcoming games. Why? Simply put, Liang didn’t participate in any of the #RESTART tournaments and, although Liang did certainly attend at least the ITTF World Cup, this seems to be have been only in a supporting manner.

Can Lin Gaoyuan force his way into the Chinese Olympic squad? (Photo: ITTF)

In the case of Lin Gaoyuan, he looks to be a strong option for the last available position. Like Xu Xin, Lin took part in two of the three events and was arguably as successful as his senior colleague. Therefore, I think it’s safe to assume that the pair are the most likely candidates for the final position!

With Ma Long and Fan Zhendong’s places in the Team event surely secured, it can surely only be one of Xu Xin and Lin Gaoyuan for the Chinese selection committee, but as for which they choose, your guess is as good as mine!

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