- 06 Feb 2007
- Olympic News
The Grande Dame of the Little Ball
Quadruple Olympic champion, China’s Yaping Deng, has marked the history of both table tennis and Olympism. Only 1.49m tall, the Asian table tennis player has indeed accumulated world titles, victories at the Games and Olympic appointments. Today she celebrates her 34th birthday - a chance for us to look back at the career of this extraordinary athlete.
A ping, a pong and four golds
Aged 19, Yaping Deng took part in her first Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. Entered in the doubles and singles, she twice climbed to the highest step of the podium. In the doubles final, partnered with Hong Qiao, she played her two compatriots Chen Zihe and Gao Jun, winning three sets to one. In the singles final, the young Chinese player once again met Hong Qiao, but this time as a rival. Yaping won the first two games hands down and only just prevented her ex-team mate from equalising in the fourth game, clocking up six points in only a few minutes. The match therefore ended with a score of three sets to one, with a second Olympic title for Yaping. At only 19 years of age, the Chinese player dominated the ladies’ table tennis competition, and went home with two gold medals in her suitcase.
Four years later at the Atlanta Games, Yaping Deng joined the Chinese table tennis team to defend her two titles. In the doubles, she played with Hong Qiao once again. Practically the same thing happened as in 1992, except for the quarter-final. Faced with players from Chinese Taipei, Jin Chen and Chiutan Chen, the two Chinese athletes played an exemplary match. Deng and Qiao proved their talent once again, never giving up on their efforts. The match ended three sets to two - the Chinese players taking the last set with only a two-point lead. The final was dispatched more quickly: three sets to one, against compatriots Yumping Qiao and Wei Liu. Two days later, Yaping competed in the singles final against Jin Chen, who had given her a hard time in the doubles quarter-final. This match was a real duel. Deng took the two first games before Chen levelled in a flash, two-all. Yaping Deng did not want to let her Olympic title slip out of hands, and gave her all in the decisive set. At the outset, she notched up nine points in a row, and maintained this rhythm until the end, finishing with a score of 21 to 5. Yaping therefore repeated her feat in Barcelona by taking the singles and doubles gold medals in Atlanta.
Champion beyond appearances
Already junior champion of her province at the age of 9, Yaping Deng won the Chinese Championships at 13. However, despite her victories, she was not accepted on either the provincial or national teams owing to her small size. Disappointed, she did not give up despite this, and continued to train. Years later, she finally gained international success. Indeed, she won 18 world titles and was ranked No. 1 in the world for eight years.
An early retirement from sport in 1996 did not prevent her from getting involved with the Olympic Movement. In 1997, the ex-table tennis player was elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission. In 2001, she also joined the Sport and Environment Commission, the body responsible for ensuring respect for the environment in the framework of the Games and encouraging sustainable development. Finally, during Beijing’s candidature to organise the 2008 Games, she was an official IOC delegate.
Yaping Deng has marked women’s table tennis and continues to work for the Olympic ideal. Her compatriots made the right choice: in 2003, she was elected Chinese Athlete of the Century.