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China women take table tennis gold

Aug. 17, 2008, 12:06 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Next up for the Chinese women's table tennis team: win more gold in singles.

The heavily favored home squad took the gold medal in the women's team competition on Sunday, beating Singapore 3-0 in another lopsided match.

The top seeds were led by Beijing native Zhang Yining, the No. 1 player in the world and a double gold medalist in Athens. China picked apart second-seeded Singapore with near-flawless execution, dishing out shots to the edges and corners of the table.

"I don't think we won that easily," said coach Shi Zhihao, characteristically refusing to acknowledge the team's dominance of the women's game.

"For us to get this kind of result today comes from our four years of preparations," he said. "We told the athletes that we were fighting for the gold medal, we weren't defending it."

Sunday's medal was the first to be awarded in team table tennis, which has replaced doubles. China came into the evening having won nine of the 10 women's table tennis golds awarded since the sport was added to the Olympics in 1988.

"We'll let out a little sigh of relief but the competition isn't over yet," Zhang said, referring to the singles event which begins for the Chinese women on Wednesday. "I think we need to maintain our drive."

The Singapore team, made up of three former Chinese nationals who went overseas in search of more playing opportunities, said previously there was little chance of a win. South Korea took the bronze, with a 3-0 victory over Japan earlier Sunday.

"China is the best team, so for us to beat all the other teams, I think we accomplished what we set out to do," Singapore's Li Jia Wei said.

The silver is the first medal won by the tiny city-state of Singapore since 1960. For their accomplishment, the team will receive a bonus of about $500,000. Had they won the gold, it would have been about $1 million.

The contest was played in a nearly packed house at Peking University Gymnasium. Chinese President Hu Jintao and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge were among the crowd.

The thousands of flag-waving fans were so still during the first few serves that the only sound was the clicking of photographers' cameras and the ping of the ball.

Shouts of "Go China" or "Go Singapore" were met with hisses from the crowd.

At one point, the NBA-style emcee broke in during a stop in play and asked everyone to yell "Go Singapore!" three times to help out the visiting team. The crowd obliged. "Thanks everyone," the announcer said. "Now back to the game."

Both Zhang and teammate Wang Nan, who had previously won three gold medals, lost the first game of their matches. But they came back to win the next three with ease.

Even with the gold medal in her hand, Zhang was still pointing out problems in her performance, among them slow footwork and playing too close to the table.

"Even though I lost that first game, I think in the end I did OK, I had the right tactics. Beginning with that second game, it went a lot more smoothly," said Zhang. "So overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how I did."

In the men's team event, South Korea rallied to beat Hong Kong and Austria defeated a young Japanese team to advance to the bronze medal match.

The Koreans came into the matchup after a loss to China the night before. But they were able to pull out a 3-1 win despite trailing in the last two matches.

Japan's Yo Kan won the first match against 2003 singles world champion Werner Schlager, but Austria responded with wins in the next three matches. The Japanese team, which includes 19-year-old Jun Mizutani and 21-year-old Seiya Kishikawa, could not keep up with the more experienced Austrian side.