(Beijing, China) - At 34-years-old, Chen Wang (New York City, N.Y.) finally made her Olympic dream come true, competing for the first time on the world's largest stage and making history as the first American to advance to the quarter-finals of an Olympic table tennis competition.
After placing fifth in the team competition on Saturday, Wang defeated World and Olympic medalists en route to Thursday night's quarter-final match against Jia Wei Li (SIN), a fourth-place finisher at the 2004 Olympic Games.
On the heels of her 75-minute marathon win in the fourth round Thursday morning, Wang and Li were tied at 10 in the first game, but neither player could seem to break the deuce. Wang had the opportunity to lock the win with two game points twice when she advanced first to a 12-11 lead and then again to lead 13-12, but Li won three straight points to take the game, 15-13.
With momentum on her side, Li won the next game as well, 11-6.
Wang took an early 5-0 lead in the third which Li managed to slowly erode away. While Wang came back to lead again, 10-6, she dropped four straight game points, ultimately watching her lead turn into a tie and then a 10-12 loss.
In the fourth, Wang looked to be headed for a straight-game loss when she trailed 3-9, but the former Chinese National Team member battled back to lead the game again at 10-9. After five opportunities to take the game point, Wang finished out the fourth in 11 minutes with a 15-13 win.
Li controlled the fifth game, though, never allowing Wang to move past their 4-4 tie and winning the game 11-4 with seven straight points.
"This is a young player's game," Wang said after the match. "I played a long match this morning and lost a lot of energy. Maybe at 24 I could have handed it, but at 34 I was tired."
Back in her hometown of Beijing, Wang was happy to have competed in her first Olympic Games.
"This was special because it was the first time the Olympics were in China and my first time in the Olympics," Wang said. "I was very emotional this morning [after advancing to the quarterfinals] because it's been a long time and I've sacrificed a lot of things."
After retiring from competition in 1998, Wang became a U.S. citizen in 2006 and returned to the court that year. A former top-four player in the world, Wang said the Olympic Games will be her last tournament.
"I am retiring. I want to have a baby and a normal life," she laughed.