Taiwan secures Olympic table tennis spot

Chen Chien-An, pictured here at the Olympic qualifiers in Hong Kong on April 16, 2016, was part of the men’s doubles team that claimed a historic first world title for Taiwan at the 2013 Table Tennis World Championships
AFP

Hong Kong (AFP) – Taiwan earned a spot at the Rio Games Saturday, after Chen Chien-An won a hard-fought match at the Olympics table tennis qualifiers in Hong Kong.

Six men’s and women’s singles winners qualified for the Rio Games at the second stage of the Asian qualifying tournament in Hong Kong, where the world’s top players, including China’s Ma Long, secured spots at the Olympics earlier this week.

Taiwan’s Chen Chien-An had a strong start to his qualifying match against Thailand’s Tanvirivavechakul Padasak, but blew an early two-game lead. He ultimately won 4-2.

“Maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Chen, 24, told AFP after the match.

“Of course I’m very happy… to represent Taiwan in the Olympics,” he added.

Chen was part of the Taiwan men’s doubles team that claimed a historic first world title at the 2013 Table Tennis World Championships in Paris.

Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko on Saturday was ecstatic after he qualified by beating Hong Kong’s Jiang Tianyi 4-0.

“It still feels unbelievable, now that I’m going to be the first male athlete to represent my country in table tennis at the Olympic Games,” Gerassimenko told tournament organisers after the game.

Two North Korean female players also made the cut after scoring commanding wins at Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium.

Ri Myong Sun of North Korea gained a qualifiers spot after sweeping India’s Mouma Das 4-0, while her compatriot Kim Song I also picked up a commanding 4-0 victory against Indonesia’s Lilis Indriani in a match that lasted 20 minutes.

The duo and the rest of their teammates posed for selfies after their victories Saturday but declined to speak with AFP.

Five men and five women gained places in the first stage of the qualifiers Wednesday and Thursday as winners of their respective regional zones — Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Chinese favourite and world number one Ma Long was one of the 10 chosen after the first stage of the Asia qualifiers Thursday, after he eliminated compatriot Fan Zhendong in a dramatic showdown.

The 27-year-old star, who was overlooked for the London 2012 singles event, overpowered Fan four games to one in the finals, bringing him one step closer to his first Olympic medal for men’s singles.

Ma comes into qualifying off a stellar 2015 during which he captured the World Championship, World Cup and World Tour grand finals titles.

Table tennis has been part of the Olympics since the 1988 Seoul Games but has been dominated by China.

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