Hong Qiao took up table tennis at the age of seven. In 1987, aged 19, she joined the Chinese national team. Despite several good results, she was not selected for the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988. It must be said that her team was of a high level: her three compatriots all stood on the Korean Olympic podium. In 1991, Hong won the singles and doubles World Championships. With such results, she was ready to compete in her first Olympic Games the following year in Barcelona.
A Chinese Olympic double final
In the doubles competition, she partnered with Yaping Deng, another queen of the little celluloid ball. Three wins in the pool stage, then a quarter-final and semi-final overcome took them into the final. Hong Qiao and her partner found their compatriots Zihe Chen and Jun Gao for an all-Chinese match. The latter pair was beaten by Deng and Qiao, losing 3 sets to 1, giving Hong her first Olympic title.
In Barcelona, the individual competition was a repeat of the doubles for Hong Qiao. She progressed through the rounds meeting little resistance. The final was sure to be exciting, pitting Hong against her usual doubles partner, Yaping Deng. The two players knew each other’s game by heart, making it a highly psychological encounter which favoured Yaping. Hong had the consolation of a silver medal.
A second Chinese Olympic double final
In the doubles, Deng and Qiao continued playing together for another four years. In Atlanta in 1996, they saved some match points in the quarter-final, before winning the semi-final and the final by 3 sets to 1. Facing the Chinese pair Yunping Quiao and Wei Liu, they retained the Olympic title they had won in 1992.
Inspiring the next generation
In the singles competition, Hong Qiao was beaten in the semi-final by Jing Chen, the 1988 Olympic champion. Despite the disappointment of missing another Olympic final, the Wuhan girl made it a point of honour to win the bronze medal. In the end, only her training partner compatriots managed to beat her at the Olympic Games. Since 2003, she has been sharing the experience acquired as a player by training the Chinese team. Her young pupils will no doubt be hoping to one day equal her fantastic achievement of four Olympic medals, two of them gold.