08/08/2012 01:26 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Table tennis sweep? China's men's team positions itself to bring home 4th gold in London

LONDON - China has taken three gold medals in table tennis at the London Olympics, and the men's team is an overwhelming favourite to deliver the fourth and final one.

China faces South Korea in Wednesday's final, which ends play in table tennis with singles gold medallist Zhang Jike and silver medallist Wang Hao leading the way. The third player is Ma Long, who may be the best of the three.

South Korea may be an afterthought for China.

Most fans believe the "real" final was in the semifinals on Monday when China struggled early but held on to beat Germany 3-1 — probably the strongest men's team in the tournament after China.

"It is unfortunate how the draw worked out, but we felt that was the final," said German player Timo Boll, regarded as the game's best non China-born player.

Germany faces Hong Kong in Wednesday's bronze medal game and, in effect, will be facing China again. All three Hong Kong player were born in mainland China, but failed to make the China team and moved to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and has it own Olympic team, and a separate political and legal system based on its long history as a British colony.

German coach Jorg Rosskopf suggested there may be very few openings against China.

"Always against the Chinese you get a small, small chance, but it is a long, long way to beat them," he said.

China has won 23 of 27 gold medals since pingpong entered the Olympics in 1988. The men can make it 24 of 28, the kind of dominance that's expected back home where table tennis is the national pastime.

South Korea's best known player is Ryu Seung-min, who upset China's Wang Hao in the 2004 Olympics to take singles gold. It was the first of three straight losses for Wang in the gold-medal singles final, including this year's final.

"It is so difficult to beat the Chinese," Ryu said. "I think back then (in 2004) players felt they had a chance. But I have the feeling now that players go into matches thinking they are already beaten."

Surprisingly, Zhang — the gold-medallist — has looked the most vulnerable in team play. Boll defeated him on Monday in their singles match, but he seemed steadier playing doubles with Wang.

"I try to give them as much encouragement and know-how as possible during games," Wang said. "I've played in so many team competitions so I can really help the younger players in these situations."


Follow Stephen Wade at