BEIJING (AP) The top-ranked Chinese men and women were not expected to face stiff competition during the first round of team table tennis at the Beijing Olympics, though other strong squads such as Korea and Japan will have a tougher road.
The draw held Thursday for the first-ever Olympic table tennis team event placed the Chinese men in Group A with Austria, Greece and Australia. The Chinese women are in Group A with Austria, Croatia and the Dominican Republic.
Though China has the world's best players, team manager Huang Biao refused to look past the first round.
"For the Chinese team, the drawing is the beginning, not the result," he said. "The competitors are ones we know well, and they're strong."
Actually, there are only three players on China's opposing teams who crack the world top 20, led by Werner Schlager of Austria at No. 16. It will be difficult for anyone to squeak out a win against China in the team competition, played in a best-of-five format with four singles matches and one doubles match.
The competition is more evenly matched in the women's Group D, where Athens bronze medalist Kim Kyung Ah leads a South Korean squad against world No. 12 Ai Fukuhara and Japan. South Korea and Chinese Taipei face off in the men's Group C, while Hong Kong and Japan will battle for the top spot in Group D.
The table tennis team event replaces the doubles competition. The event begins with a round-robin stage, with group winners advancing to a knockout stage for the gold and silver medal matches. The second-place team in each group and the semifinal losers play for the bronze.
The other men's groups are - Group B: Germany, Singapore, Croatia, Canada; Group C: South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Sweden, Brazil; Group D: Hong Kong China, Japan, Russia, Nigeria.
The other women's group are - Group B: Singapore, Netherlands, United States, Nigeria; Group C: Hong Kong China, Germany, Poland, Romania; Group D: South Korea, Japan, Spain, Australia.