Wang Liqin

------Fledgling ping-pong star shakes off stress 07-29-2004 16:19

When people think of Chinese sporting success, many think of table tennis. The Chinese table tennis team is indeed one of China's sports powerhouses, and the team has dominated the sport in recent years by winning more Olympic golds and world titles than any other country. Wang Liqin is one of players who has brought success to the team, but in the past, the pressure has got to him.

At the age of 6, Wang Liqin became crazy about table-tennis, one of China's most popular sports. He was picked for the men's national squad in 1993 when he was only 15 years old.

He soon distinguished himself from his peers with his talent and enterprise. Before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he had won more than a dozen national Asian and world titles. Coaches and experts predicted that he would dominate the table-tennis world in the first decade of the 21st century.

Shi Zhihao, coach of Chinese men's table-tennis team, said, "Wang Liqin is a clever, industrious and driven player, but he is a little bit introverted. He has always been most enterprising in the team and has achieved a great deal, including the world men's singles championship. And he had been ranked world No.1 for 2 years. He has huge potential for years to come."

Wang's coaches admit, however, that he has his own Archilles' heel: his mental strength can tumble when something unexpected occurs. This has surfaced as the biggest hurdle for the young man to remove on his way to be the world's best.

At the 2000 Sydney Games, Wang Liqin and his partner Yan Sen defeated their teammates Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang to win the men's doubles gold. But to his disappointment, he was denied an opportunity to vie for his 2nd gold in the singles amid worries that he would not be able to handle the stress of a major competition. It was too cruel a decision for him to bear.

Stress is dangerous in table-tennis, a sport that requires composure and concentration. Wang is well aware of his problem and tries hard to overcome it, but it is far from an easy job and he seems to have improved little. In an intra-squad competition earlier this year to shortlist Athens Olympics contestants, he was again the victim of stress. After taking 15 minutes to change his broken bat, his form plummeted unexpectedly and he quickly lost the decider. But he says given enough time, he will be able to break his bottleneck.

Wang Liqin said, "Sometimes I am not good at taking a good grip of the match. This proves to be my biggest disadvantage. I must work hard on it in my daily training sessions and matches."

His efforts paid off at the 2004 World Table-tennis Teams Championship in Doha, Qatar. In a win-or-go-home match in the 4th round, Wang Liqin met Austria's Werner Schlager, to whom he lost a year ago in Paris. Wang's bat broke again at the beginning of the game, which led to his defeat in the first 2 sets. But this time he brought an end to the vicious cycle with great composure, reversing the game with a 3-2 victory. His coach Liu Guoliang says that game served as a turning-point. He said, "I think Wang Liqin is in one of his career peaks judging from his recent performance. But to be better prepared for bigger challenges like the Olympics, he needs to be more aggressive, and he must make quicker adjustments when facing difficulties. He has a great chance to win and his competence is beyond doubt. He has the ability to conquer any opponent in the world, if everything goes right."

Winning coaches' hearts with his improved maturity, Wang Liqin has booked a ticket to Athens to take part in the men's singles, a title he has been dreaming of for 4 years. He is expected to become China's 4th table tennis player to bring home both the singles and doubles golds.


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