Sometimes, a championship team can use naysayers to reach a higher level, letting the doubters fuel them to turn the dial up to eleven, taking any ounce of criticism and tacking it the bulletin board.
And sometimes, they’re so good they don’t need to care.
The Chinese women utterly dominated the Germans to clinch yet another team gold at the Riocentro Tuesday evening. The win marks the third time the Chinese women have taken home the gold medal since the inclusion of the team event in 2008.
Li Xiaoxia got proceedings off to a hot start as she churned through Han Ying in 26 minutes. Li won six of the last seven points in game 1 to win a close contest 11-9. Then she did one better, winning eight of nine to take game 2 in a trouncing, 11-3. She used another big run to take the third set 11-7. All told, the opening match took just 26 minutes.
Li then tagged in her compatriot Liu Shiwen, who must have thought the match a time trial. Liu won eight straight points to take the first set 11-3, used a 5-0 run to win the second 11-5, and dominated from the onset to finish the job at 11-4 in the third. The second singles line took just 17 minutes.
Next came the doubles and Olympic singles champion Ding Ning, because the Germans clearly hadn’t suffered enough. The Chinese kept up the frenetic pace, winning the first six points of doubles en route to an 11-6 opener. Then they won seven of eight to start the second set; they’d win that one too, at 11-5.
The third set of the doubles match provided the most entertaining points of the evening, as the German duo of Xiaona Shan and Petrissa Solja won three points from 9-8 down to take the game 11-9, getting on the scoreboard for the first time in the entire match.
Their would-be comeback was short lived. Ding and Liu outlasted the Germans in the fourth, taking the game 11-7 to clinch China's third straight gold medal.
Despite their showing in the gold medal match, Germany can hold their heads high. Their silver medal in Rio is the first of any color for their women’s team in the Olympics.
The men’s team finals take place tomorrow, starting with the bronze medal match at 10:00 AM ET, followed by the final at 6:30 PM ET. You can watch those matches streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
Prior to the London Olympics, Japan had never won a medal of any color in table tennis. The women’s team silver in the 2012 Games broke down that barrier.
Good things must come in pairs.
Japan overcame an early singles loss to take the bronze medal over Singapore 3-1. With the Japanese men in the team final against China Wednesday evening, both the men’s and women’s teams will medal in Brazil.
But Japan dug themselves a hole early. Ai Fukuhara was tasked with facing Yu Mengyu in the opening singles line. After taking the opening game easily at 11-4, Fukuhara faltered, letting Yu win the second and third games without putting up much resistance. Fukuhara battled back to win the fourth 11-4, forcing a decisive fifth game in the opener.
It was Yu who would take the plaudits, opening with three straight points and never looking back, winning the fifth set 11-5 to take the first line.
Next up was Kasumi Ishikawa, the top ranked Japanese player, who lived up to her reputation by dismissing Feng Tianwei in three closely contested sets. Ishikawa had to save three game points in the first set, and then kept on going to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 12-10 win. In the second game, Ishikawa used a late surge to take a tight one 11-6, and then repeated the trick in the third set to win 11-7 and even the match at a point apiece.
With the contest delicately poised, the doubles point took on even greater importance. Fukuhara teamed with Mima Ito to oppose Yu and Zhou Yihan. After splitting the opening two sets in tight contests, the Japanese duo flipped a switch, taking the third game in a rout at 11-1. Then, after throwing away two match points in the fourth, they saved a game point from Singapore and kept on going, taking the next two points to win the game and the match.
Ito stayed on for the fourth singles line and picked up where she left off in the doubles, taking the game to Feng Tianwei. Ito won the first set 11-9, then won nine points out of eleven in the second to turn a tight game into a romp. Up two games to love, Ito coasted to a commanding lead in the third set. When Feng pushed her forehand long at 10-6, Ito had clinched the bronze medal for Japan.
Women’s table tennis concludes in Rio with the gold medal match this evening between China and Germany getting underway at 6:30 PM ET. You can stream it live on NBCOlympics.com