The country has shown dominance in the sport since the 1996 Olympics.
It is a well-known fact that the Olympic powerhouse China is the king of Table Tennis. There is nothing new which can be written about China’s dominance in Table Tennis, also called ‘Ping Pong’. China’s dominance can be known by the fact that it has ruled the World of Table Tennis since the 1996 Olympics. Since the introduction of Table Tennis in the Olympics in 1988, out of the 37 gold medals awarded until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 32 have been won by Chinese athletes, and only 5 by the rest of the world.
In both Olympic team events (men’s and women’s), the Chinese National Team is unbeaten. They have never won anything but gold. In addition to this, the men’s Chinese National Team hasn’t lost a series in the Table Tennis World Championships ever since 1995. The women’s team also hasn’t lost since 1994.
Because of these achievements, and for many others, 11 out of the 12 best Table Tennis players of all time are Chinese. The world fears this smashing record. Year after year, teams and countries come up with new strategies to beat them but the Chinese players outplay them completely. So what makes them so special, is it the strategy, practice or tactics, let’s know in detail in this article.
China has a solid system in place which is not developed overnight. It took years of hard work and persistence to develop this solid base for players. China has huge sports schools which also include the world’s best China Table Tennis college, which is only dedicated to Table Tennis. China has a massive infrastructure backed by coaches.
The country’s federation estimates that there are around 80 million people who play the game in China. Right from the junior age, first, there is the identification of potential talent which is determined by certain games and their level of physical coordination is put to the test. Then at a young age, they are taught a very different ball game which is focused more on building basics and techniques.
India’s Table Tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran decoded China’s dominance in Table Tennis in an interview with the First Post. Gnanasekaran says that the approach to grooming these players is different. He points out that at the younger level, Chinese paddlers are not focused on winning titles. They are taught more about perfecting their basics and techniques. He says, “It’s not just about the infrastructure. They have a solid coaching system. From beginner to intermediate, they focus on the technique and the basics so much! They have a system which they want all players to follow like a book since childhood. Coaches all over China follow this roadmap. Then they step it up.”
“I have beaten a lot of Chinese players in the junior ranks. In that age category, a lot of them are beatable. They don’t know the exact tactics. When I was playing as a kid, I was always taught how to win. Indians want to win every match from a young age. But that’s not the way that Chinese players are taught. They take a longer route. If a child is not winning in India, he probably won’t continue in the sport. But that’s not the case in China,” he says.
“They don’t want their players to go into competition mode internationally at a very young age. At the age of 16, when these players are taught the nuances of the game and are explained tactics, they become beasts! They are almost unbeatable! The world fears them,” says Sathiyan.
As a young player in China grows, they mature and master their skills. At an intermediate level, they work regressively on basics and at an advanced stage, they work on tactics and game reading, footwork etc.
There are little-little details that are corrected, observed and worked on. The skills of serving and receiving are one such nuance of the game where a player takes the most points. The Chinese rush their opponents. “Striking the ball even a split-second earlier gives the opponent lesser time,” Gnanasekaran says.
World Class Training
In China, table tennis is practised with religious sincerity. They have a very intense training framework developed for all the players. The training is hard, specific manuals are developed for all the players and different for top players.
Players compete with other players to make their game top-level. They are put under different situations and pressure to be prepared for the international level. Out of the millions that play Table Tennis in China, only six – three men and women players each feature in the Olympic games. There are solid brains who are behind this system and have prepared this training method over the years.
They follow an almost military rigidity in training, players are bred with excessive scrutiny. There is a focus on building muscle memory, players are put through rigorous hours of practice till they perfect every shot. Players are trained mentally and physically to train 8 hours a day. They are trained at a high level since childhood so that they can get used to it when they grow up.
The military drill has been a practice for the Chinese table tennis team for years. The Chinese table tennis team prepares themselves by going a week-long training before the start of every Olympics. They did it in Rio and also in Tokyo. For the Rio Olympic Games, they kicked off their preparations with a week-long training at a People’s Liberation Army boot camp in north China’s Liaoning province, according to state news agency Xinhua.
For table tennis powerhouse China, competition is somehow like a war that must be won. So it always moulds its table tennis squad like an army, literally,” Xinhua said.
Military training is a way to reinforce the team’s unity and temper their willpower,” head coach and a former Olympic and World Table Tennis Champion, Lio Guoliang told Xinhua.
The training is also efficient since there are experienced coaches and exercises that are put in place. Top players are also trained according to the game style they have and specific training is there to perfect themselves. They are trained to tackle every situation and every strategy against them.
Just before the start of the Olympics, the training peaks in the level of seriousness of all the top players. The Qualified athletes keep themselves away from all external influence, media included and put all their focus into training, in the months leading up to the Games.
The Chief National Coach of India Table Tennis, Soumyadeep Roy in an interview with ‘The Bridge’ said, “China has done an incredible amount of research in table tennis. They follow a very systematic approach. The whole infrastructure China has for table tennis is next level. They have been working at this for many years and only then have they achieved such results. Right now, China is like a factory for producing top paddlers.”
There is no room for error. And players develop themselves to a level where they have no weaknesses and are unbeatable. The roadmap of player development in China is unmatchable. China’s government and sports federations spend highly on grassroots development and elite players.
China is an example of what dedication is and what level one can achieve if all things are put in place. They have shown what hard work, scientific precision, extensive understanding of a sport and finally a touch of talent can transform any nation and put them on the porch.
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