China’s table tennis king Ma Long on Friday became the first player in Olympic history to win men’s singles gold for a second time. The 32-year-old captain and talisman of the all-powerful Chinese team defeated younger compatriot Fan Zhendong 4-2 in the final in Tokyo. The defending champion has now won four Games golds overall, having also claimed team titles with his country at London 2012 and Rio 2016, underlining his status as one of the best players table tennis has ever seen.
Just like immediately after the all-Chinese women’s final the night before, Ma and Fan — the top two seeds — unfurled a large Chinese flag as they celebrated another one-two for their country.
Bronze went to Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov after he saved four match points in defeating 19-year-old rising star Lin Yun-ju of Taiwan 4-3.
Ma, whose nicknames include “The Dictator” because of the way he dominates his opponents, said that he had improved as the tournament went on.
“During the preliminary rounds I was never very satisfied with my performances, but after the quarter-finals and semis I was playing better,” he said.
Comparing his path to singles gold in Tokyo with the one in Rio five years ago, he said this time had been tougher.
“In the last cycle, in 2015-2016, I was having a very good time, winning every match.
“In this cycle, many young, talented players emerged, they’re very good, so I can say this time was very different.”
Ovtcharov, who gave Ma a real fright in the semi-finals, called his Chinese rival “not only maybe the greatest of all time (in table tennis), but among the greatest athletes in all sport in all time”.
“He’s an inspiration,” the German added.
Kiev-born Ovtcharov celebrated a bronze that at one point looked to have gone.
The 32-year-old was facing defeat in the sixth game of his clash with Lin but he somehow clawed his way back to stay alive and then took that momentum into the decisive seventh game.
Ovtcharov, who adds this bronze to the one he won in singles at London 2012, put his head in his hands when victory was confirmed, shook the hand of the teenage Lin, then kneeled down and placed his head on the table.
China came into the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games aiming for another golden sweep in table tennis, but they were stunned in the final of the mixed doubles by the hosts Japan.
But the Chinese, who won every gold at the previous three Olympics, restored order on Thursday when team-mates Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha went head-to-head for the women’s singles title. Chen won 4-2.
The men’s and women’s team crowns are still up for grabs in the Japanese capital.
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