The Chinese Rio 2016 Olympic Table Tennis Men’s Team has claimed the Male Athlete of the Year, Most Popular Male Athlete of the Year and the Outstanding Achievement awards at the China Top 10 Benefiting Laureus Sports for Good Awards night held yesterday, 15 December in Beijing, China.
The China Top 10 Benefiting Laureus Sports for Good Awards is the collaboration between the internationally renowned Laureus World Sports Awards and the Top 10 Chinese Athletes Awards, and is the most significant awards for athletes in China.
Crowned the ITTF Male Table Tennis Star at the Seamaster Qatar 2016 ITTF Star Awards a week ago in Doha, Rio 2016 Olympic Champion MA Long was named the Male Athlete of the Year last night.
Upon receiving his award, MA shared “First, I want to thank Laureus Awards, thank the jury for their recognition of my effort in the past year. Secondly, I want to thank Chinese table tennis team, this team not only taught me how to play table tennis, but also taught me values to be a better person. When the national flag rose at the Rio Olympic Games (victory ceremony), that moment was worth all our efforts.”
The world number one added “I also want to thank all the predecessors of the Chinese national table tennis team. We will continuous to guard our honor and spread the spirit of our national sport. Our generation did it!”
Despite losing the Men’s Singles Final to MA in Rio to settle for a Silver medal, London 2012 Olympic Champion ZHANG Jike still won the hearts of millions in China during the Rio Olympic Games. Being one of the most followed Chinese athlete, and with his vast popularity amongst fans in China, ZHANG received the Most Popular Male Athlete of the Year award.
The two-time World Champion said “I have to thank all my fans and all the people who love and support our athletes. You are the one who gave us strength to go further. In the next year, I will work harder to bring more honor to our team and our country.”
According to statistics released by Sina Sports, the Grand Slam Champion alone accounted for 10% of all Olympic related searches during the Rio Olympic Games in August on Sina Weibo, which is the primarily used social media platform in China.
Troubled with injuries and sickness, ZHANG remains positive about his condition, stating “It is common for athletes to get injured, it is better to remain positive. After all, I completed my duty in the Olympic Games. Now, I am facing the last few years of my career, I still cherish these opportunities. I will persevere and continue to play for as long as possible.”
The Chinese Team’s head coach LIU Guoliang added one more honor to his collection by winning the “Outstanding Achievements” award at the China Top 10 Benefiting Laureus Sports for Good Awards. LIU, who was also named the 2016 ITTF Star Coach last week at the ITTF Star Awards, has led the Chinese Table Tennis Men’s Team to all major titles available in the year, including 2016 World Team Champion, 2016 Men’s World Cup Champion, Rio 2016 Olympic Singles Champion, Rio 2016 Olympic Team Champion.
During the awards ceremony, the Star Coach made a heartfelt shout out to his team: “Normally, I am cruel and harsh. My soft words & gentleness to you will bring back the cruelty from your rivals. Only when you win the matches in Olympics, I will kiss you because that proud feeling comes from the bottom of my heart. In the new circle, I hope you prepare yourself because I am still going to be harsh. We will start (this new cycle) again together.”
In a rematch of the 2015 World Tour Grand Finals Gold medal match against FAN Zhendong, the world number one repeated his success one year ago to defeat his 19-year-old compatriot once again in dominant fashion.
The 2016 ITTF Male Table Tennis Star proved himself to be in unbeatable form, racing to a quick 3-0 lead in an intense final in front of the local crowd.
After FAN came back strong to win the next two games and saved five match points, MA was not going to let the title slip at the last moment, putting the pressure back on to eventually prevail 4-2 (11-5, 11-4, 11-9, 7-11, 12-14, 11-9).
“I’m very happy to win my fifth World Tour Grand Finals Singles title. I think I’m in quite a good form during this tournament, especially in the final, I made it through the challenge of FAN Zhendong,” stated the 28-year-old. “I played well at the start but I did not deal with crucial points well enough when I was leading at the middle of the match. But I think it’s good enough to be able to win the match.”
After defending Champion DING Ning withdrew from the tournament due to high fever, world number four Zhu Yuling was China’s only hope for her country to retain the Women’s Singles trophy.
Facing Rio 2016 Olympic Team silver medalist Han Ying (GER), the world team champion was in top shape, giving the German defender no chance to take control over from her in the final fight for gold, winning 4-0 (11-9, 12-10, 12-10, 11-3) to become the World Tour Grand Final Women’s Singles Champion for the first time.
“I was more or less anxious because this is the first time for me to play in the finals at the Grand Finals. I am eager to win. Luckily, I can still calm down at the crucial point. For me, this match is the accumulation of experience,” shared ZHU after claiming the title.
“I have gained a lot in 2016. Winning this tournament at the end of this year is a small step for me. I hope I can play well in the next year. In the new circle of Olympics, I think, no matter what problem I will meet, I will spare no effort to prepare for Tokyo Olympics.”
Japan’s Hina Hayata who was recently crowned World Junior Team Champion in Cape Town just one week ago, added the Women’s Doubles title & the under-21 Women’s Singles Champion title to her name from the World Tour Grand Finals.
Pairing with Yui Hamamoto, Hayata overcame Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching in six games (11-8, 15-17, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 12-10) to take home the Women’s Doubles title.
In the men’s doubles event, Japan’s top seeded pair Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima were unable to repeat the feat by their female counterparts. Despite dominating the match at the start to take the first 2 games, Korean duo Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu recovered quickly to win the next four games to seal the final victory 4-2(5-11, 2-11, 12-10. 11-9, 11-7, 11-4).
In the under-21 events, Hayata secured her title with a 4-1 (11-8, 7-11, 11-8, 13-11, 11-7) victory to upset DOO.
While Chinese Taipei’s Liao Cheng-Ting who shocked top seeded Ho Kwan Kit (HKG) out of the contest for gold earlier in the tournament, had the match of his career, defeating seconded seeded Yuto Muramatsu 4-0 (11-6, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8) to claim his first World Tour Grand Finals title.
The world’s best players battled through 20 World Tour events across the globe to gather enough points to qualify for the $500,000 season-ending event.
As always, all eyes will be on World & Olympic champion MA Long of China who will be the red-hot favorite to defend the title he won last year in Lisbon.
The odds for the 28-year-old were slashed even more as he was drawn in the other half of his two other teammates, world number two FAN Zhendong and number three XU Xin. This means MA will not have to face his Chinese teammates until the final.
“I am very happy to avoid my friend XU Xin in the draw. This is my last tournament of the year, so I want to finish the year of my dreams off in style, by winning the World Tour Grand Finals for the fourth time.”
Number two seed, 19-year-old FAN Zhendong, the man that MA Long beat in last year’s World Tour Grand Final, will be out for revenge for his 2015 defeat, and will want to keep up his momentum from winning the Men’s World Cup earlier in the year.
Double World Tour Grand Final champion Jun Mizutani (JPN) is making his first international appearance since winning bronze at Rio 2016, so confidence will be high for the Japanese superstar. Europe’s hopes rest with Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) and Vladimir Samsonov (BLR), who will be bidding for their first World Tour Grand Finals crown.
Like fellow Olympic champion MA Long, Ding Ning (CHN), is out to defend her World Tour Grand Finals title here in Doha. The 27-year-old stated after seeing her draw: “All the 16 players are qualified through many tough tournaments in 2016, so everyone here will be strong. I will prepare my best for every match, as each match will be difficult. I am here to win, and want desperately to defend my title.”
The Japanese trio of Miu Hirano, Mima ITO and Hina Hayata, fresh from their historic feat of becoming the Women’s Junior World Team Champions earlier in the week are ready to enter back into the senior stage, after all qualifying for the event here in Doha. Time will tell if they can transfer their junior form to senior success in Doha.
The Seamaster Qatar 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals is the most lucrative table tennis event on the globe, with only the top 16 men and women players from the 20 2016 ITTF World Tour events securing their place in Doha. In addition to the singles competition, eight men’s and women’s doubles pairs and 8 men’s and women’s under 21 players have also be making their way to Doha to compete in the event.