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London pain laid to rest, Rio delight

Friday 19 February

London pain laid to rest, Rio delight

The third pavilion in the Riocentro, the complex that had hosted the 2008 World Veteran Championships, was the setting for the table tennis events at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, overall play commencing on Saturday 6th August and concluding on Wednesday 17th August.

However, if there was a date that was fixed firmly in the mind of one player it was  Wednesday 10th August, the semi-finals and final of the women’s singles event.

It was the goal for Ding Ning, the most pleasant and charming character you could wish to meet, the bright, bubbly smile enigmatic but defeat hurts, it is like a dagger in the heart; no defeat caused greater pain than that against Li Xiaoxia in the women’s singles final at the London 2012 Olympic Games.


 

Since that date in 2014 in Lisbon, she had won the Women’s World Cup, before in 2015 beating Liu Shiwen in a memorable women’s singles final at the Qoros 2015 World Championships in Suzhou. Virtually she played on one leg after twisting her ankle at the start of the seventh game. Notably, she finished the year by securing the women’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Lisbon.

Success in Lisbon had a significance; Ding Ning had appeared in the final on four previous occasions and always she had experienced defeat; in 2009 in Macao to Guo Yan, then commencing in 2011 in London on three consecutive occasions to Liu Shiwen. In the Portuguese capital city, she stopped the sequence; she beat Chen Meng to claim the title.

Win in Rio de Janeiro and she would have a career full house of the sport’s major titles; that was not the major factor. In its own right, the Olympic title was the most precious even if you claimed no other accolade, it gave you a special place in sport.

However, there was another ingredient, the way Ding Ning had lost in the London final four years earlier. She had been faulted on her service using an action which had not incurred the wrath of most umpires over the years, ultimately being docked a penalty point, no doubt that stung in her mind. The resolve was greater than ever.

Commencing play in round three, the determination showed. She reached deadline day surrendering a mere 59 points. She accounted for Romania’s Elizabeta Samara (11-5, 11-8, 11-5, 11-2, followed by in similar style Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem (11-3, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4) and Germany’s Han Ying (11-8, 11-5, 11-3, 11-7) to reach the penultimate round.

Facing, the very technically correct defensive skills of Kim Song I, she recorded a five games semi-final win (11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-9), prior to once again opposing Li Xiaoxia in the gold medal contest.

No service problems but there was a severe test of Ding Ning’s mental strength and once again as in Suzhou, the previous year, she shone through. She won a close third game to secure a 2-1 lead before losing the next two to find herself on the precipice of defeat. She recovered, secured the sixth and seventh games, the mission had been accomplished (11-9, 5-11, 14-12, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7).

Tears of emotion flowed but on the medal podium as Singapore’s Ng Ser Miang, member of the International Olympic Committee and Petra Sörling, ITTF Executive Vice President, presented the medals, the Ding Ning’s smile lit up Rio de Janeiro.

Four years of painful reflection was over; the full set of major titles was gained, Ding Ning owned the ultimate individual crown, Olympic Games gold medallist.

Editor: Ian Marshall

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