China’s Ding Ning held off compatriot Li Xiaoxia in a sensational women’s singles table tennis final on 10 August, winning the gold medal against the woman who had denied her the same prize at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Ding, who went into London 2012 as favourite to beat Li, did not let a second chance pass her by as she won the Rio 2016 Olympic Games final 4-3 (11-9, 5-11, 14-12, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7).
Down three games to two, Ding played with more aggression and won the next game to stay in the match, pumping her fists and roaring as the momentum swung her way. In a tense final game, Li twice clipped the top of the net, sending the ball long and giving Ding the breathing space to close the match out.
The Olympic win gives the 26-year-old Ding a grand slam of titles after her brace of World Cup wins and two world championships. As she clinched victory she burst into tears just as she did four years ago, but this time for very different reasons.
“I’m so excited, I can’t believe I did it. I don’t know how to explain my feelings right now. This is a very tough competition, and I think Li and I both did very well,” Ding said. “I feel I’m more mature than I was four years ago. I was able to put sad memories of that defeat in London behind me coming into this game. When I made it to the final I told myself I was going to fight to make my dream come true.”
Li said that injuries in the build-up to Rio 2016 had been a factor in her defeat. “I do think if I had spent one year properly training that I would have won today’s match. But I have no regrets. I was just trying to score one point at a time. I congratulate Ding on her achievement.”
In the bronze medal match Kim Song I (PRK), who was playing in her first Olympics, capped off her remarkable tournament with yet another upset victory, proving a defensive style of play can still win medals in the aggression-oriented modern game with her 4-1 (11-7, 11-7, 11-5, 12-14, 11-5) defeat of No.6 seed Ai Fukuhara (JPN).
Losing out on bronze was the second disappointment in a day for Fukuhara. She had gone into her semi-final clash against Li in hot form – not having dropped a single game all tournament – only to be dispatched 4-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-1, 11-1) in 24 minutes. The other semi-final was a closer affair, with Ding having to overcome her vulnerability against defensive play in a 4-1 grind (11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-9) against Kim.