Table tennis players seek net gains from star trainers

Updated: 2012-08-03 02:36

By Sun Xiaochen in London (China Daily)

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'Young guns' get advice from old hands for Olympic showdown

Table tennis "young guns" are getting a helping hand from more experienced "shooters" who know what its like to face an Olympic showdown.

If you want to be the best, you have to play with the best and table tennis, with its rapid-fire action, proves the point more than most, according to elite practice partners who have been putting the Olympic players through their paces.

Ma Lin, Chen Qi and Guo Yan have more Olympic medals and world titles than many countries and they head a team of nine trainers giving the Olympians a harder time than most opponents they will face across the net.

This helps make China the best team in the world, Wang Hao, the Beijing Olympic men's singles runner-up told China Daily after his 4-1 third-round victory over Austrian veteran Werner Schlager on Monday.

"We always have a group coming to major tournaments together. Anyone not playing will serve as a practice partner to help us get used to competition."

Thanks to a deep talent pool, practice partners can emulate the style of potential opponents.

The current world No 1, Zhang Jike, has been practicing with Chen since the team arrived at its pre-Olympic camp at Leeds University one week before the Games.

Chen, left-handed, boasts strong forehand loops and reminds Zhang of one of his main rivals, German fourth seed Timo Boll, also a left-hander who deploys top-spin loops.

China's other singles favorite, world No 2 Wang, has been getting a taste of what it will be like to face semifinal opponent Chuang Chih-yuan of Chinese Taipei. Teammate Ma Long has the same aggressive right-hand drive.

In preparation for a potential match with a rare "chop" player, the training team has two "choppers" — Liu Yi and Fan Ying — for the men and women to warm up against.

Just about everything is on the training menu.

"We can see a lot of 'opponents' on our own team," said Zhang, the reigning world champion.

Meanwhile, the B team's experience could be crucial for some first-time Olympians.

The 24-year-old Zhang, who is making his Olympic debut, credited Ma for sharing big-game experience and tips on opponents.

"His presence is an inspiration for 'young guns' like me and he points out things I never knew," said Zhang, who was Ma's training partner before the 2008 Olympics.

Ma, who was disqualified in the national trial, said his only job is to give his countrymen as much trouble at the table as he can.

In the interest of diversity, China also hired some foreign players.

During the World Team Championships in March, India's top men's player Achanta Sharath Kamal — who along with partner Subhajit Saha stunned the Chinese pair of Ma and Zhang in the Asian Championships — was invited to practice with the Chinese players.

"Actually, it was a learning curve for me, but I tried to put them under as much pressure as I could. Anyway, it's an honor for me to be there," Kamal said.

Men's coach Liu Guoliang said he picked each player for a specific reason.

"Each of them represents a certain threat for us," said Liu.

Foreign teams don't have that same deep talent pool from which to draw.

"I think it's a big advantage to have these players in the training group," Germany's Boll said. "They can push each other to the limits."

Leading the European challenge against China by himself, Boll has found it difficult to improve while practicing with his European equals.

He even joined the Chinese Super League last year in the hope of meeting stiffer competition.

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