SPORTS

China begins quest for 2 more gold medals in Olympic table tennis

08/03/2012 01:10 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - For China, it's two gold medals down — and two to go.

China has won gold and silver in the women's and men's singles, and took its opening match on Friday in the women's team event. China defeated Spain 3-0 to reach the quarterfinals behind singles gold medallist Li Xiaoxia, silver medallist Ding Ning and Guo Yue.

Team play is a best-of-five series composed of four singles matches and a doubles match. Each match is a best-of-five games.

Second-seeded Japan also advanced easily, beating the United States 3-0.

Ding was in tears after losing to teammate Li in Wednesday's final. But two days later she was smiling and trying to be, as she said, "a team player."

"No matter what happened to me, right now the team event is more important so I have to get my emotions in order," said Ding, the defending world champion. She defeated Li in the final of the world championships a year ago, and is the sport's No. 1-ranked woman.

"If I mope around, then that's not going to help the team."

China is under crushing pressure to sweep all four gold medals, which would give it 24 of 28 since 1988 when pingpong entered the Olympics.

In public, nobody seemed to celebrate the first two gold medals. The job is only half done. But Friday the women looked relaxed.

Ding joked with a translator — an Englishman speaking excellent Mandarin.

"You don't really understand what I'm saying," she said.

She cracked a big smile when he said he could.

As many as 500 million Chinese are expected to watch each of the finals on TV, making the players celebrities at home.

"I know that at the time she (Ding) came off the court it was really tough for her, but she was able to accept it," women's coach Shi Zhihao said. "In competition there is only one winner. I didn't have to say so much. She knows."

China displays great team unity. The goal is clear.

All players grew up in the state-run sports schools, which are run by top government officials. State-run media reported recently that for the first time all six table tennis players at the Olympics will be Chinese Communist Party members. Men's coach Liu Guoliang called this an "honour" that would help the players improve by "following the higher standards for Communist Party members."

Li represents the new generation, the latest in a long line of Olympic women gold-medal winners in what is China's national pastime.

She follows sports icons Zhang Yining, who took four gold medals in the last two Olympics. Wang Nan won hers in three Olympics — 2000, 2004 and 2008. And Deng Yaping started the string with four in 1992 and 1996, and went on to be one of the faces of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Li said she has tried to forget about the gold medal.

"The three of us are feeling very together and ready to go," she said.

In other first-round results, the Netherlands defeated Egypt 3-0, Hong Kong defeated Austria 3-1, South Korea beat Brazil 3-0, Singapore won over Poland 3-1, North Korea defeated Britain 3-0, and Germany beat Australia 3-0.

Four men's matches were set for late Friday: Portugal vs. Britain, Sweden vs. Germany, Brazil vs. Hong Kong and Austria vs. Egypt. Top-seeded China and No. 2 South Korea play Saturday.

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Follow Stephen Wade at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP.

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