Atlanta could be considered as the luckiest place for the Chinese Men Team of Table Tennis. It is because the Atlanta Olympics gave the Chinese Team their first ever gold and silver medals in the Men Singles since the entry of Table Tennis in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The Chinese male delegation for the Atlanta Olympics was made up of Kong Linghui, Wang Tao, Lu Lin, and Liu Guoliang. Due to a poor performance in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Men Singles, Lu Lin only got to play in the Doubles with Wang Tao. Their partnership was so strong that time that they were expected to win the gold medal.
That left the other three players to participate in the Men Singles. Kong Linghui was the hottest item that time after he became the world champion in the 1995 Tianjin championships, taking the World Singles Men Title back to China after 8 long years (Jiang Jialiang, 1987). Naturally, he got that spot in the Singles. Since Wang Tao will play in the Doubles and Wang Tao was a better player compared to Lu Lin, he eventually got the second slot for the Singles as well.
As for Liu Guoliang, his Olympic entry was actual just because of the trust from coach Yin Xiao. "Actually, Liu Guoliang almost missed the Atlanta Olympic Games. Kong Linghui's condition was very stable as he almost remained undefeated after winning the 1995 World Championships. We were then choosing between the veteran Ding Song and Liu Guoliang. Ding Song actually had higher chances as his results were better than Liu Guoliang. However, as the head coach of Liu Guoliang, I personally hoped for his Olympic qualification." Yin Xiao said.
Due to that personal desire, coach Yin Xiao fought for his disciple. He then laid his reasons to Cai Zhenhua. Yin Xiao pointed out that despite better results of Ding Song, his strength is equally comparable with Liu Guoliang. Yin Xiao then explained further that to enhance their advantages in the Doubles, Liu Guoliang should get in as he had good results with Kong Linghui. After careful assessment, Cai Zhenhua eventually abandoned Ding Song and chose Liu Guoliang with closed eyes.
Well, Cai Zhenhua indeed made a right decision. Liu Guoliang offered the first Olympic Singles gold medal to China and added one more gold medal from the Doubles.
Well, what happened to the hot item Kong Linghui? Ironically, the most favored player Kong Linghui had an early exit in the Men Singles. In the Round 16, the South Korean Kim Taeksoo ended the hopes of Kong Linghui by 3-1.
This left the Chinese Team with Liu Guoliang and Wang Tao. This is the first time that great strength was seen from the Chinese players in the Olympics.
Wang Tao crushed the 1988 Olympic champion Yoo Nam Kyu, survived the young Belorussian star Vladimir Samsonov and swept Petr Korbel of Czech Republic. Eventually, Wang Tao reached the finals from the bottom half. Meanwhile, Liu Guoliang was also doing his job in the upper half of the draw. He defeated Koji Matsushita, Johnny Huang, and the current German coach Jorg Rosskopf, leading him to the finals as well.
The final battle was not an easy one for both players. Liu Guoliang had the 2-1 advantage but allowed Wang Tao to catch up in 2-2, leading the match to a decider. At that point, Wang Tao lost his rhythm while Liu Guoliang was literally dominating every rally, leading him to a powerful ending of 21-6.
Liu Guoliang vs Wang Tao 1996 Olympics MS Finals
video kindly shared by 999Uncle
Eventually, Liu Guoliang was hailed as the Olympic champion in his first attempt. Aside from the Singles, Liu Guoliang also won the Men Doubles with Kong Linghui after defeating the expected winners Wang Tao and Lu Lin in the finals.
"Since 1988, I started to train the young Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang. They were both 12 years old at that time with Kong Linghui slightly older by a few months. I have been like a father to them and in 1996 I allowed them to participate in the Olympics for the first time. With the chance given to them, both my disciples became the Olympic champions. Of course, I was very happy." Yin Xiao said. After the match, coach Yin Xiao did not forget to thank the head coach Cai Zhenhua as well.
Well, the Atlanta Olympic can only say so much for the upcoming London Olympics. Here we saw that being the reigning world champion has no assurance in clinching the Olympic medal and neither it is a disadvantage if you are an Olympic first timer. Anything can happen in the Olympics and anyone can be the winner!
Photo source: sports.cntv.cn