China have won 28 of the 32 table tennis titles awarded at the Olympics, dominating a sport in a way that has rarely been matched.
But the lead-up to the pandemic-delayed Games has thrown up several challenges, from inconsistent form among China’s top players to new rules to stop the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading.
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“The whole playing space is smaller than usual, world competitions normally have areas measuring seven by 14 metres. I just measured it at six by 11 metres,” Guoliang was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV.
“I’m a little worried about the athletes’ running and safety. It’s quite different from before.”
Guoliang’s concerns were shared by some of the players on the team as well, adds AFP news agency.
“We’ve been noticing the size of the playing area throughout. Several side serves hit the screen board at the side of the court and we were slightly affected,” men’s player Xu Xin said.
The trending hashtag #Liu Guoliang uses his foot length to measure the Olympic venue” gained 250 million views on social media site Weibo.
Liu previously complained about what he viewed as the Tokyo Olympics’ excessive COVID-19 prevention measures which made the team’s preparations “extremely difficult”.
“We didn’t expect some epidemic rules like not wiping the game table with your hand, or blowing on the ball,” he had told the state agency recently.
Last week, the Chinese sailing team also complained of poor COVID-19 pandemic prevention measures at their hotel, saying competitors were forced to mix with other guests.
China’s six-member table tennis squad this year includes reigning Olympic champion Ma Long and world No.1 Fan Zhendong in the men’s singles, while world champion Liu Shiwen will play the mixed doubles and women’s team events.
Aside from China, the only other countries to win Olympic table tennis titles are South Korea (three times) and Sweden (once).
However this year fierce rivals Japan are counting on home advantage and some notably strong players – raising fears that the Chinese team might not have it all their own way in the delayed Tokyo Olympics.
China is taking a record delegation of 777 athletes and staff to Japan – its largest to an overseas Games.
The delayed Tokyo 2020 Games will start on Friday (July 23) without fans and will go on till August 8.
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