Barcelona, status established
Nowadays, table tennis is recognized beyond doubt in the Olympic Games; moreover, it is the sport’s premier event. At the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, staged in a converted railway station, the former Estacio del Nord from Sunday 26th July to Wednesday 8th August, that status was established.
Some misgivings but overall, the first appearance in the Olympic Games in 1988 in Seoul had proved a success, a fact underlined by the support afforded by the International Olympic Committee as we moved ever nearer the present day situation. It was agreed that the numbers of places in the women's events could be the same as in the men's; thus, there was an increase in the total number of players taking part.
In Seoul, the men’s singles comprised 64 players, the men’s doubles 32 pairs; for the women it was 48 women’s singles entrants, 30 women’s doubles partnerships. Four years later in Barcelona, 63 players competed in the men’s singles, 30 pairs in the men’s doubles; in the women’s singles it 61 competitors, 31 women’s doubles pairings.
The regulation remained that at least one member of each doubles pair must be a player who had qualified for the singles. Likewise, the qualification system of players by world ranking and continental qualification was maintained.
However, there was major change in the first stage of the men’s and women’s singles events, in Seoul eight players per group had proved of little interest to spectators, too many irrelevant matches.
The suggestion was made straight knock-out but the concept, now accepted, was rejected; the compromise was to have 16 groups, four players in each group but only first place in each group qualifying for the main draw.
A change but not drastic in terms of time. It meant that the duration of the qualifying stage was reduced but by only one day.
Also, the progressive knock-out system for places in each event witnessed in Seoul was abandoned, medal matches absorbed the interest; thus, for the main draw in both men’s singles and women’s singles, straight knock-out was the order.
Similarly, there was a changes in the men’s and women’s doubles events, as opposed to four groups with eight pairs in each group; it was changed to eight groups with four pairs per group, only first place securing a main draw place.
Ever nearer the modern day system, also recently accepted on the international stage, for the final stages was the use of ball boys and ball girls were stationed at the four corners of the playing area. It did not prove entirely successful; it made the playing area appear crowded; also, many players preferred the break provided to collect the ball. It was not repeated in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London or Rio de Janeiro.
Also, the International Olympic Committee accepted the argument that it was customary at World Championships for both losing semi-finalists to be given equal third ranking; a similar arrangement had already been agreed for lawn tennis.
Both semi-finalists in each event received bronze; it is the only occasion when there have been no bronze medal matches. The argument presented is that a medal should be won not gained as a result of losing.
In Tokyo the bronze medal match remains, in the eyes of many the toughest contest of all.