Say it with me: Ning Ding. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
During these Olympics, Poseur will spend each day watching and reviewing one sport. He also promises to stop referring to himself in the third person.
Today's Sport: Table Tennis
Don't call it ping pong. Table tennis fans get really defensive when you do that, and start rattling off reasons why the Olympic sport is totally different than the game you played against your dad in the rec room (that is, if you could find a hard core table tennis fan). And they do have a point - games are to 11, matches are best of seven, and the serve changes every three points - all changes from the classic game you played at home.
Oh, and these competitors are about a million times better than you. Watching them warm up was like watching the best game of ping pong ever, and would disabuse you of any notion that you, too, could be an Olympian in this, the most disrespected of Olympic sports. These women are really, really good and it's amazing to see how much power and spin they could generate on shots with just a flick of the wrist. Anyone can bust out the slam with a big windup, but they could generate serious speed on balls close to the body without that windup.
This is another one of those sports which is completely dominated by one country. In fact, this might be the least competitive sport in Olympic history. You know what? Let's just deal with that in the next section. You know what's coming, right?
Since being added in 1988, there have been 76 total medals handed out in table tennis in Olympic history. China has won 41 of them. China has won 21 of the 24 gold medals ever awarded, including 19 of the last 20. China has had a representative on every medal podium in table tennis history except one (1988 men's singles), and they have won every single gold medal ever awarded in men's doubles, women's singles, and the team events in both sexes.
Chinese domination is so out of control that the organizing committee came up with a brilliant rule: no more than two competitors from any nation may participate to prevent an all-Chinese medal stand (which happened in both singles competition in Beijing, and the only reason it didn't happen in the team competition is that China only has one team). Other sports, you may have heard, have adopted this rule, limiting the finals to only two competitors per nation.
The Gold Medal: China
Shockingly, there was an all-Chinese final, which put me in a bit of a dilemma on who to root for. I've been enjoying rooting against China in all sports, our only real rival in the medal count, but here, it was not an option. I chose to root for Ding Ning over Li Xiaoxia because she wore a garish neon green shirt and, well, her name is Ning Ding.
Li pretty much dominated the match over Ding. You know it's a bad sign when the only way Ding could win a point was on a spectacular rally. There were about three or four rallies that were jaw-dropping displays of skill, all won by Ding, as if that was that was the only possible way she could win a point. Midway through the fourth set, the judge gave Ding a red card for illegal serves, and she pretty came apart. She finished the set with tears rolling down her cheeks as Li mercilessly peppered her with slam after slam.
Poseur's Enjoyment Level: Higher Than Anticipated
I wasn't thrilled by the prospect of watching China win gold again, but it turned out to be a pretty cool experience. I clearly backed the wrong horse, and I found myself rooting for Li - who displayed little emotion in crushing what I'm willing to bet is a big rival. Even her celebratory screams seemed planned, and designed to psych out her opponent. However, once she won, Li ran into the crowd, bowed to her coaches and looked for someone to hug. And that's pretty cool to watch... unless you are Ding, who packed up her bag in record time to go backstage and probably cry some more after getting, as she obviously believed, getting screwed by the refs.
A Brief Interlude, or Why I Cheer Against China
I kid about rooting against the Chinese... well, actually, I'm not kidding about the fact I'm rooting against them, as they are our chief Olympic rival, but I do make fun of them as the new Evil Empire. But you want to know why China gets slapped with a villain label? Because it's not that big of a stretch.
China has made no secret that it wishes to be seen as a new world power, and it has invested heavily in its athletics program in order to dominate the world of sports like they hope to dominate finance, politics, and culture. And honestly, the history of state-sponsored sports programs run by totalitarian regimes bent on domination is not a good one (SEE Union, Soviet; Germany, East ). This makes them an easy nation to root against, in the abstract.
But look at the recent stories which fit them for the villain role. Badminton attempted to tank a match in order to rig the draw, despite the catcalls of the crowd. The Chinese team was kicked out of the Olympics, and rightfully so. A Chinese diver won a gold medal and then was informed her grandmother had died... over a year ago. That's simply unconscionable. Chinese media showers their gold medalists with praise and ignore the bronze and silver medalists, much less the non-medalists.
And some in the media want to scold us for being suspicious of a 16-year-old Chinese swimmer posting a final 100m better than Michael Phelps? You mean, the same Chinese swim team that came out of nowhere in the mid 1990s and then got busted over 40 times for doping offenses? Or the one now that takes kids from their homes at a young age, and then casts them aside when they stop churning out gold medals? Yeah, can't imagine why we might be skeptical of this regime. The way the state controls these athletes' lives and essentially robs them of their families and individuality is worse than taking a steroid. Once you have crossed the bridge of total control over people's lives in relentless pursuit of victory, you're telling me they are suddenly going to pause at the prospect of maybe breaking a rule? And haven't they already crossed the bridge too far?
I don't know if Ye Shiwen is using any sort of drugs. But it is insane to think it is out of bounds to ask, given their dismal track record. Hell, the only team that uses more drugs is the US track team. And even if China isn't cheating, their legal practices are bad enough.
Swimming & Track Update
.01 second. That's less than the blink of an eye. And for two straight years, the US gets a huge win by a hundredth of a second. The 100m freestyle is usually one of the best races of the swimming program, and boy, did this one live up the hype. Nathan Adrian winning the gold is almost as shocking as Yannick Agnel NOT winning it. Agnel has been the king of the pool this week, and he failed to even medal, by .04 seconds, in the premiere freestyle event. Just an amazing race with a shocking result. I know NBC was hyping Magnussen, but I thought Agnel was going to crush everybody. He's been that good this week.
The American women won the 4x200m free relay, shooting Allison Schmitt to the individual medal lead, along with Alicia Coutts of Australia. The Aussies are not having their best Olympics (though they are tied with China for second with 8 swimming medals), but she is salvaging some national pride by racking up 4 medals (1 gold, 2 silvers, 1 bronze). Schmitt sits atop the leaderboard by virtue of her two golds.
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