China and their continued dominance of the sport

 

After Dark Ping Pong were lucky enough to be present at the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals this weekend, and even luckier to have got a photo with one of the best players to ever have graced the table tennis arena. It is Liu Guoliang of course and he had another extremely successful few days at the test event in the Excell Arena. His two top seeds made it into the final in what was an exciting, but fairly one sided, affair. This photo and the all Chinese final got me thinking about the current grip that the Chinese have over the sport, but why?

First some background on Liu Guoliang. Lui was born on the 10th of January 1976 in Xinxiang, Henan. For those of you who didn’t know, he has won all titles at major world tournaments including World Championships, World Cup and Olympic Games which made him only the second man to achieve a career grand slam of 3 majors (Olympic Gold, World Cup, World Championships). Considered by many to be one of the greatest players of all time Liu retired at the age of 25 in 2001. He was then appointed as head coach of the Chinese Men’s National Table Tennis Team at 27 and has coached them to a team gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in addition to the medal sweep by Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Wang Liqin. (See photo below Wang Hao (L) Ma Lin(C) and Wang Liqin (R) at the Bejing Olympics)

There is no doubt that Liu has an incredible amount of talent when it comes to table tennis but many great players fail when they translate over to coaching. This is most defiantly not the case for Liu, he has instilled a great ethos into the national side and got the absolute most out of players like Ma Long and Zhang Jike. They undoubtedly owe a lot of their development as a player to his coaching. He is also renowned for his great decision-making and always keen on team rotation and giving young talented players a chance at the highest level. Having back room staff like Liu makes such a huge impact on the professional levels of a team and adds experience that is priceless.
There is also great structural setup in the Chinese national team that the players are at a great advantage because of. Players are trained in the national team rather than at the provincial level. Therefore, all of their focus and energy is solely on training and playing for the national team. China has an established professional league since 1998, but it is merely used for the top players to maintain their sharpness when international competitions are not being played. So, playing for the national team is their full-time job.

Therefore the national team is the sole focus of the top players in China, however seems that commitments to club teams hinder the progress of non-Chinese players on the international stage. A combination of national league matches and table tennis’ form of the European Champions League prevent some of the world’s top players outside of China from participating in the various ProTour events held throughout the year. When we interviewed Kelly Sibley at the ITTF event in London she mentioned that every weekend she travels to Spain in order to play her cup matches.It is an unsustainable way of developing talent but is the only option for non-Chinese players as they are not offered the same amount of national team backing as the Chinese get. (click here to see the Kelly Sibley interview)

There is a reason why the Chinese dominate the sport of table tennis and that’s because they want to. They have great coaches with great histories who inspire those they coach to aspire into being as great. Not only do they train hard and practice a great deal they have the backing from their national side and a great national league for them to play. To many people jump to the conclusion that players like Ma Long and Wang Hao are just robots that are ‘programmed’ into these playing machines. These views couldn’t be more wrong. They are well trained and committed athletes, just like Tiger Woods is on the golf course or Wayne Rooney on the football field. They are extraordinary athletes who have great back room staff and are given every opportunity to be the best possible player they can be.

ADPP
The Video below is footage from the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals in London, between team mates Ma Long and Wang Hao.

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ADPP were lucky enough to be present at the ITTF Pro Tour Finals this weekend, and even luckier to have got a photo with one of the best players to ever have graced the table tennis arena…click here


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