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Ma Long, strength of character

Saturday 07 August

The dust has settled, on Friday 6th August, Ma Long beat Timo Boll to close the curtain on proceedings at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games; the win meant China maintained their record in the men’s team event of always clinching gold.

Perhaps it was somewhat appropriate that Ma Long concluded matters, he was the only player remaining from the Chinese team that had succeeded in 2012 in London.

Moreover, if there was one player above all in the Metropolitan Gymnasium who stood out from the rest, make no mistake there were many fine performances, it was Ma Long.

Memorably, Deng Yaping in Barcelona (1992) and in Atlanta (1996) had completed a successful retention of the women’s singles Olympic Games title, as later had Zhang Yining in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) but such a feat had never been completed by a male player.

In Tokyo, Ma Long broke new ground; safely through to the semi-finals he beat Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov in a momentous duel (11-13, 11-8, 9-11, 9-11, 11-5, 5-11, 11-9), before securing the title at the hands of Fan Zhendong (11-4, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-7), the player thought in some circles ready to arrest the mantle.

Ma Long had other ideas, at 32 years of age, he reserved the top step of the podium.


Ma Long en route to beating Timo Boll in the men's team final

In fact, when he won in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the only more senior player to win the title was Ma Lin; he was 28 years of age when he succeeded in 2008 in Beijing

  • Yoo Namkyu: Seoul 1988 – 20 years old
  • Jan Ove Waldner (SWE): Barcelona 1992 – 26 years old
  • Liu Guoliang (CHN): Atlanta 1996 – 20 years old
  • Kong Linghui (CHN): Sydney 2000 – 25 years old
  • Ryu Seungmin (KOR): Athens 2004 – 22 years old
  • Ma Lin (CHN): Beijing 2008 – 28 years old
  • Zhang Jike (CHN): London 2012 – 24 years old
  • Ma Long (CHN): Rio de Janeiro 2016 – 27 years old
  • Ma Long (CHN): Tokyo 2021 – 32 years old

Success but never forget Ma Long has overcome notable disappointments, starting in 2009 in Yokohama he was beaten by compatriot Wang Hao in three consecutive men’s singles World Championships semi-finals; frankly he did not perform.

Eventually he won in Suzhou in 2015 and then repeated the feat in Düsseldorf in 2017 and two years later in 2019 in Budapest.

Add those results the fact that he continues and continues to succeed at an age when previous Chinese winners had disappeared from the scene adds; there is just one conclusion, incredible fortitude.

Ma Long may have a reliable backhand, a mighty forehand but one fact above all, enables him to stand out from the rest and continue a remarkable career, willpower, sheer strength of character.

Editor: Ian Marshall

Photo Credit: ITTF

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