Entering these Olympic Games, North Korea’s Kim Song-I was an afterthought; the 27 seed in the women’s singles tournament wasn’t even expected to make it beyond the fourth round.
She’s not an afterthought anymore.
Kim won in style on her 22nd birthday to claim the bronze medal in a 4-1 romp over Japan’s Ai Fukuhara, scoring her third major upset of the tournament en route to becoming the first North Korean to medal in women’s table tennis since Kim Hyang-Mi took home silver in Athens.
Because North Korean players rarely play tournaments outside of the major championships, they are often difficult to scout. Kim used this to her advantage, leaning on a wicked, slicing backhand that’s rarely seen at the highest level to flummox Fukuhara time and time again.
Kim took the first game of the contest in a tight one, then came from behind in the second on by winning six out of seven points late on.
The birthday girl then turned on the style, winning six straight to take the third 11-5.
Fukuhara battled back in game 4, getting on the board at on her fifth game point to win 14-12 in a set that was tied on nine different occasions.
But Kim would not be denied, using a 5-0 run to put herself in the driver’s seat in the fifth. When her return clipped the edge of the table, she had won an improbable bronze medal.
The action from the Riocentro concludes this evening with the gold medal match, streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
North Korea’s Kim Song-I entered Wednesday’s semifinal already having two high-profile upsets to her credit in these Olympics. Possessing a devastating slice backhand and an unorthodox serve, she was looking to score her most impressive victory of the tournament yet when she faced China’s Ding Ning.
Ding would have none of that.
The 2012 runner-up outlasted Kim in five games Wednesday morning to set up a tantalizing rematch of London’s final against her compatriot Li Xiaoxia later tonight.
The match was closer than the scoreboard would indicate; running at 50 minutes, it took twice as long as the morning’s first semifinal.
Ding was able to take the first game of the affair 11-5 on the back of a 4-0 run that gave her breathing room. But Kim would answer back in a hotly contested second game, 11-9.
The loss, Ding’s first dropped set of these Games, seemed to galvanize the world’s second-ranked player, as she answered back with emphatic victories of 11-6 and 11-3.
In game 5, the two traded body blows until, at 6-6, Ding won three straight to put her in the driver’s seat. At 10-9, Ding smashed a wicked forehand that clipped the edge of the table to send her back to the gold medal match.
Ding will be seeking revenge tonight as she faces her teammate Li. Li was a 4-1 victor in London four years ago.
Kim will try to find consolation in the bronze medal match against Japan’s Ai Fukuhara in what should be a mouth-watering undercard.
You can catch the medal rounds streaming live tonight starting at 7:30 PM ET on NBCOlmypics.com.
Routine dominance was the story of the day in the first women’s singles semifinal as China’s Li Xiaoxia dismissed Japan’s Ai Fukuhara in straight sets. Li, the reigning Olympic champion, now has the chance to defend her gold medal this evening.
Li thoroughly outclassed her opponent throughout and seemed to get better as the contest went on, taking the match 11-4, 11-3, 11-1, 11-1 in just 24 minutes. Li was so in control that at times it looked she was taking points at will. She went on runs of 9-0, 6-0, 9-0, and 8-0 in each respective game.
Time and time again, Fukuhara seemed to be in control of a point, only to see her advantage evaporate with one flick of Li’s wrist, the champion from China turning defense into attack seemlessly.
Li will now await the winner of the other semifinal this morning between her compatriot Ding Ning and North Korea’s Kim Song-I.
The silverware gets handed out tonight with the bronze medal match at 7:30 PM ET, immediately followed by the gold medal match at 8:30 PM ET. As always you can catch all the action streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.