London, Aug 2: China locked in another table tennis gold when World No.1 Zhang Jike and teammate Wang Hao both reached the men’s singles final at the Olympic Games here Thursday.
Zhang ended Europe’s hope of regaining a singles gold after beating German Dimitrij Ovtcharov 11-8, 11-3, 5-11, 11-9 and 11-8. Wang beat Chuang Chih-Yuan from Chinese Taipei 11-13, 11-2, 12-10, 11-6, 11-9, reports Xinhua.
Head coach Liu Guoliang said he felt relieved that both Zhang and Wang did not crack under pressure and played well in the semifinals.
“The pressure is huge. It is even more than the Beijing Olympics, because we have one player less and the pace has changed too,” Liu said.
The International Table Tennis Federation altered its rules for the London Games, allowing only two players from one nation to enter singles, eliminating the possibility of another 1-2-3 finish for Chinese men and women. The third qualifier can only compete in team event.
The federation also changed the competition format for the London Olympics – singles come before team event.
The changes have increased variables for China’s gold quest. Liu said before that the singles-first format poses “unprecedented challenges” to Chinese players as any slip in singles will increase pressure in the team event.
Commenting on the final, Liu said both Zhang and Wang were strong contenders for the gold.
“Zhang is more aggressive, and Wang is more all-rounded. Whoever has the right way of thinking wins the gold,” Liu added.
A right-handed attacker, Zhang is the reigning World Champion and World Cup champion. If he wins the gold here, he would become the first male player to win the World Championship and Olympic Games back-to-back.
Wang, 27, was World Champion in men’s singles in 2009. He twice let slip gold medals at Olympic men’s singles, losing to South Korea’s Ryu Seung Min at Athens 2004 and his teammate Ma Lin at Beijing 2008. London 2012 might be his last chance to get the gold.