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Zhang leads China sweep in women's table tennis

Aug. 22, 2008, 11:09 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) China won the gold. And the silver. The bronze too.

Zhang Yining of China defeated teammate Wang Nan on Friday to win the gold in women's singles table tennis at the Olympics, completing a medals sweep for the host team. China clinched all three medals in the event earlier in the evening after Guo Yue beat Li Jia Wei of Singapore to win the bronze.

Though China has always been dominant in its national sport of table tennis, it has swept all three medals only once before, in the women's singles event at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Zhang, the top-ranked player in the world, called it a "perfect" result.

"Every athlete wants to win the gold in China, and I'm from Beijing and I won the gold. And the top three are all from the Chinese team," Zhang said. "I think it was a really successful competition."

The gold medal match was a showdown between two of the best athletes in table tennis - Zhang was playing for her fourth Olympic gold medal and Wang was competing for her fifth.

All three women beamed as they received their medals, smiling and waving at the crowd in a rare display of unbridled emotion for athletes whose dominance in pingpong stems in part from their strict self-control.

Wang, who is retiring after the Olympics, cried as the Chinese national anthem rang out and three red flags with yellow stars rose over the playing floor.

"I was thinking about us at training camp, the whole preparation process. I think the Chinese pingpong team has really accomplished something," she said afterward, tears still on her face.

Wang, who turns 30 later this year, seemed to have no regrets about retiring. "The Chinese team isn't lacking talented pingpong athletes. I've had a pingpong career of more than 20 years, so I hope to have a new kind of lifestyle."

The score was frequently tied in the first half of the gold medal match. Wang controlled the game, forcing Zhang to lunge and chase for the ball. But Zhang stayed cool and gradually took over her fifth-ranked opponent, winning 8-11, 13-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-3.

There were no coaches on the benches, just the two players wearing the same uniform in different colors - Zhang in blue and Wang in red - playing in the middle of the gymnasium. Wang seemed relaxed, wearing a half-smile and sticking out her tongue after losing points, but Zhang set her face in an expressionless mask.

"I thought it was a really hard match. The competition within our team is very fierce and the strategy is changing with every shot. And I'm wondering whether she will be able to figure out what I'm thinking. It's really complicated," Zhang said.

Guo, who went into the bronze medal match after losing to Wang earlier in the day, beat Singapore's Li 11-6, 14-12, 9-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-4 to take third place.

Guo, ranked No. 2 in the world, struggled at times against Li, the world's sixth-ranked player. The match featured many fast rallies, with Guo overpowering her opponent with blistering topspin shots to the corners.

"The Chinese team has the best training partners, the best environment for table tennis," Li said. "But I think for Singapore to get this kind of result, we did pretty well."

A medals sweep is also possible in the men's singles event, after the Chinese rolled over their competition Friday in the quarterfinals to set up another semifinal round with only one foreign athlete.

"It's the Great Wall," said the lone non-Chinese to advance, Jorgen Persson of Sweden.

"But look at the history of the Olympics. In the five gold medals (in the men's singles event), two are Chinese, two are Korean and one is Sweden. So they are strong, but it's breakable."

Persson will play world No. 1 Wang Hao on Saturday. World No. 4 Wang Liqin will play No. 2 Ma Lin.