Sunday, August 24, 2008
China completed a clean sweep of all four titles in the Olympic table tennis competition Saturday, living up to the impossible 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 all comers, winning the mens and womens team tournaments, and the Gold, Silver and Bronze in both the mens and womens singles events. Some might compare the dominant Chinese victories to the United States victories in basketball and swimming, or Jamaica's takeover of the track events, - but they shouldnt, and heres why.
The US swimming legacy, and Jamacia's track performance at Bejing in 2008 were premised on the dominance of individuals - Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, respectively. The US basketball team was essentially the NBA All Stars playing against a mix of amatuers and semi-professionals from all around the world. The Spanish team played quite well in the final, passing the ball, executing defensive and offensive plays and getting good looks at the basket, while the Team Redeem was content to either drive it right to the hole or shoot a 3 pointer, almost all of which went in.
The US Team shot an unbelievable number of treys in the 4th quarter. You would never see an NBA team shoot that many. It turns out there is a very simple explanation for this: the NBA 3 point line is 23"9' from the rim, while in the Olympics the 3 point line is 20'6" away. Its over 3' closer, which makes a huge difference in the shot percentage. The Americans played like crap at the end, and could have easily lost the Gold medal game if the 3 point line wasnt so close, as Spain was playing great defense with their two big men and Team USA wasnt handling or passing the ball well at all. The US was very, very fortunate to win the Gold in basketball, as the Spaniards had clearly outplayed them, they just couldnt outshoot guys who are paid 20M a year to hit everytime from 20'.
But back to the table tennis, and the Chinese destroying everyone else who plays it. And it is table tennis they play in the Olympics, not ping-pong. When you and I drink a dozen beers each and whack the ball back and forth a few times in your garage, its ping pong. When the ball is being hit at over 70mph and being returned, multiple times per point, the name of the game is table tennis. The late, great George Carlin noted that:
"Technically, tennis is an advanced form a Ping-Pong. In fact, tennis is Ping-Pong played while standing on the table. Great concept, not a sport. In fact, all racket games are nothing more than derivatives of Ping-Pong. Even volleyball is, technically, racketless, team Ping-Pong played with an inflated ball and raised net while standing on the table."
So now we have established that Ping Pong is Table Tennis played at under 70mph, all other racket games are derived from it according to George Carlin, and finally, it is the national pastime of China and they completely pwn the world at it. They just proved that at this Olympics, and in some ways its more impressive than any other country's performance in any other sport. To sweep all the medals required perfect performances from a 6 different comptetitors in a sport where anything can happen. The matches are over extremely quickly, sometimes in as little as 15 minutes, so any lapse in concentration, focus, or mental toughness will result in an instant loss.
To progress to the medal rounds, each Chinese player had to face the best players from Sweeden, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Greece, Singapore, South and North Korea, and a few other countries with one or two strong players each. But China has the top four male players in the world in #4 Liqin Wang, #3 Long Ma, #2 Lin Ma, and #1 ranked Wang Hao, and the top five female players are Chinese as well: #5 Nan Wang, #4 Yan Guo, #3 Xiaoxia Li, #2 Yue Guo, and #1 ranked Yining Zhang. As perfectly as the Chinese team executed their gameplan to takeover Table Tannis in the Olympics, everyone else knew from the outset it was going to be an uphill battle.