A demoralizing silver for table tennis program
Oh Sang-eun, Joo Sae-hyuk and Lee Jung-woo lost the final of the team event to the Chinese trio of Wang Hao, Ma Lin and Ma Long late Tuesday here at the Asian Games.
As silver medals go, this was quite a demoralizing one for the Korean men’s table tennis team. In losing three straight singles matches, Oh, Joo and Lee failed to win even a set against the Chinese players.
Korea has not beaten China in an Asian Games men’s table tennis team event for the past 20 years.
Oh, the team’s senior member at 33, was busy fending off drives from the world’s No. 3 Wang. Joo won just three points in the first set against Ma Lin. Left-handed Lee lost to the top-ranked Ma Long to end South Korea’s hopes.
Head coach Kim Taek-soo accepted the team’s defeat.
“We were absolutely outplayed; in terms of world rankings, skills and past history, we trail China,” Kim said. “Our players had the fighting spirit, but that alone won’t win you many games in this sport.”
Kim said he briefly thought about deploying Asian Games rookies such as Jeoung Young-sik or Kim Min-seok. But he said he ultimately decided to give veterans Oh and Joo “what could have been their final opportunity” to play in the team final at the Asian Games.
It didn’t work.
“I don’t think any country can beat China right now,” Kim said. “I will accept that we lost tonight because China is just a superior team.”
Korea briefly replaced China as Asia’s table tennis power in the late 1980s, but has not been able to usher in a new generation of players. Both the men’s and women’s teams edged the Chinese to win gold at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. Then at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Korea took gold medals over China in men’s singles and women’s doubles.
The Korean men’s last team gold over China came at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. The Korean women last defeated the Chinese in a team event at the 1991 world championships.
Over the past two decades, the tide has turned. China has continued to produce world-class players, with teammates replacing each other at the top of the world rankings, and the country has swept up virtually every medal in sight.
Currently, three of the world’s top-five players in both men’s and women’s table tennis are from China.
Korea had world stars in coach Kim (1998 Asiad singles winner), women’s team coach Hyun Jung-hwa (1988 Olympic women’s doubles champion) and former men’s team coach Yoo Nam-kyu (1988 Olympic men’s singles gold medalist).
But aside from 2004 Olympic singles winner Ryu Seung-min, who was 22 at the time, no younger players have emerged to take the torch from the veterans.
Jeoung and Kim are both 18-years-old. And both coach Kim and Oh said they need to develop fast in order for Korea to once again mount a challenge against China.