China’s table tennis players took all three gold medals on offer at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, winning the men’s and women’s singles and mixed international team competitions. In the process, they cemented the country’s status as the sport’s pre-eminent force and also laid down a marker for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The clean sweep was China’s second in a row at the Youth Olympic Games, with their players also completing a golden table tennis hat-trick at Nanjing 2014. Seventeen-year-old Sun Yingsha claimed gold in the women’s competition and Wang Chuqin, one year her senior, did likewise in the men’s. The two then joined forces to win the mixed international team competition. “There were times when I did feel a bit nervous,” Wang said after securing his second gold medal of the YOG. “We managed to get the win in the end but we need to analyse our performances if we’re going to improve.”
Japan’s Miu Hirano and Tomokazu Harimoto, meanwhile, collected all the silver medals between them. Hirano lost 4-1 to Sun in the women’s final, Harimoto went down by the same scoreline to Wang in the men’s gold-medal match, and the two came off second best to their Chinese rivals in the mixed team final. “I was able to avenge my singles final defeat in the mixed international competition, but unfortunately for us we weren’t able to get the overall win,” said the 15-year-old Harimoto after defeating Wang 3-1 in the second match of the team final. “I think this experience will stand me in good stead for Tokyo 2020.”
The mixed team bronze went to Su Pei-Ling and Lin Yun-Ju of Chinese Taipei, while Kanak Jha of the USA collected the men’s singles bronze and Romania’s Andreea Dragoman took third place on the women’s singles podium, giving Europe’s players a solitary medal, one more than they managed at Nanjing 2014.
Europe did, however, reach the mixed team semi-finals, where Serbia’s Sabina Surjan and Sweden’s Truls Moregard lost out to the Japanese pair, despite Moregard’s defeat of Harimoto. The Swede’s victory was made all the more notable by the fact that Harimoto won the world junior title in 2016 and the following year became the youngest player ever to win a men’s singles final on the ITTF World Tour.
“Truls beat Harimoto in this competition, which was very important and a huge step for him,” said Glen Osth, the Sweden team’s Chef de Mission in Buenos Aires. “That’s the first time that I’ve beaten him,” said Moregard. “The generation we’ve seen here will very soon be able to beat any senior player. I’m sure of that.”