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China exercises a monopoly in Olympic table tennis leaderboard: Know Why?

China has redefined what dominating really means as they have been exercising their monopoly by winning a record 53 Olympic medals from table tennis alone.

China exercises a monopoly in Olympic table tennis leaderboard: Know Why?

The jubilant women's team of China at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Image Credit: Rémy Gros


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 21 Jun 2021 11:13 AM GMT

China has become synonymous with table tennis and their association with the game has established them as a powerhouse with astonishing command over ping-pong. In fact, to no surprise, table tennis is the National Sport of the country as well and to exhibit their stronghold over it - the record books have been exhausted with the names of paddlers hailing from the most populous nation in the world.

In table tennis, China has redefined what dominating really means as they have been exercising their monopoly by winning a mind-boggling record of 53 Olympic medals from this sport alone, ever since it got included at the 1988 Seoul Games. The stats that stare at our faces are glaring and eye-popping, to say the least, Chinese paddlers have secured 28 out of the 32 Olympic gold medals that have been contested so far. Comprising the 53 are also 17 silver medals and only 8 of bronze - the majority has been gold.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics in fact, China bagged all the gold medals - Ma Long clinched gold in men's singles, Ding Ning picked up the women's singles while the men's team comprising Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Xu Xin and the women's team of Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia took home the top honors.

At the Tokyo Olympics, China will once again enter as the overwhelming favourites and look to continue their dominance - assuredly adding on to the 53 Olympic medals they have already accumulated.

The secret behind China's golden run

Ma Long, Image Credit: ITTF

For any sport to prosper in a country, first and foremost, it needs to find popularity with the masses. Being fairly economic, table tennis hit the bullseye in China when the Chinese government, led by Mao Zedong in the 1950s decided to divert attention to the "development of sports to enhance the people's physical fitness."

Taunted as the 'Sick Man of East Asia' by Westerners for China's medal-less performances in a trio of Olympics, the Chinese government sat up and took active notice. This inciting factor led to the creation of one of the biggest dominances in sporting history. Currently, China boasts of having 546 Olympic medals to their name and are very comfortably placed at the 5th spot on the Olympics medal tally list.

Just like Rome wasn't built in a day, neither was the Chinese monopoly in table tennis an overnight creation. The easy accessibility of the sport and the love of the Chinese for their ping-pong gave the initial push for the growth of the sport. The Communist government came into the picture and orchestrated a major role in establishing the monopoly and its effects that we see today.

In China, table tennis is practised with religious sincerity. Following an almost military-rigidity in training, players are bred with excessive scrutiny. Stressing on muscle memory, players are put through rigorous hours of practice till they perfect every shot. Before the Olympics, the training peaks in its level of seriousness as well. Qualified athletes keep themselves away from all external influence, media included and put all their focus into training, in the months leading up to the Games.

Speaking to The Bridge, the Chief National Coach of India of Table Tennis, Soumyadeep Roy explained, "China has done an incredible amount of research in table tennis. They follow a very systematic approach. The whole infrastructure China has for table tennis is next level. They have been working at this for many years and only then have they achieved such results. Right now, China is like a factory for producing top paddlers."

One can't help but agree to Roy's comprehension of this Chinese monopoly as well. Table tennis in China is encouraged right from the grassroots stage and that has helped them spectacularly in fashioning champion paddlers.

"Right from the age of 6 or 7, players are nurtured in China. Every small city, every town has table tennis centres. The entire structure is admirable. It's difficult to reach that level for us (India) anytime soon - a lot of work needs to be done, infrastructure-wise. Plus, China has a lot of knowledge in table tennis," Roy mentioned.

Can the Chinese monopoly be threatened soon?

The Chinese mens doubles team in action at Rio 2016, Picture Credit: AFP

Given the stronghold China has over the sport, especially at the Olympics, it seems most unlikely that this order can be disrupted anytime soon. Ridiculously enough, the top four male players in table tennis out of five hail from China while six of the top seven female players are all Chinese. If this isn't a sign of their raging dominance, what is?

The only second nation to give China a fight in the medal collection department at the Olympics is probably South Korea, who have collected 18 medals so far. With the likes of Ma Ling, Ma Long, Cheng Meng, Xin Xu, Jike Zhang, Dang Ning and Wang Manyu still very much in the mix, it would be a Herculean task to deter these paddlers from continuing their reign.

However, apart from these legends of the sport, China continues to factory-produce such paddlers who grow up to be world-beaters. Being very organised and systematic in their approach, China has shown what hard work, scientific precision, extensive understanding of a sport and finally a touch of talent can transform any nation and put them on the perch.

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