Entering Wednesday night’s gold medal match against Japan, China had never lost a team match at the Olympics. Chinese teams, men and women, had combined to win the first five gold medals available in the competition at the Olympics.
You can make that six.
In what classifies as a close match by their lofty standards, China defeated Japan three games to one to take their third straight Olympic gold.
World No. 1 Ma Long got things off to a raucous start, needing just eighteen minutes to dismiss Koki Niwa in straight sets. Ma took the first game 11-6, then rattled off seven straight points from 9-4 down to win game 2 11-9. He bookended the match with another 11-6 victory in the third.
Ma passed the baton to Xu Xin, who faced the sternest challenge the Japanese had to offer in world No. 6 Jun Mizutani. The opening game offered a taste of what was to come. Tied on seven different occasion, Mizutani outlasted Xu to take the first game 12-10. He then repeated the feat in the second set to win 11-9.
Down two sets to love, many would have forgiven Xu for throwing in the towel to save his energy for doubles. But the world No. 3 fought back, manhandling Mizutani in the third set 11-3, then winning convincingly in the fourth to set up a decisive game 5.
Xu jumped out to an early 6-2 lead in the fifth, and had three match points at 10-7. But Mizutani finished off an incredible upset, winning five straight points to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, winning 12-10.
The doubles point proved to be the turning point in the match. After splitting the opening two sets, the Chinese pair of Xu and Zhang Jike overcame an early deficit to win the third game 11-9, then rode a wave of momentum to an 11-5 win in game 4 that put things firmly in their favor.
Then it was back to the world No. 1 to finish the job. Ma wasted no time contemplating the weight of the occasion, dismantling Maharu Yoshimura 11-1 in just four minutes. Ma struck hard again in the second, taking the set 11-4, and found himself with a commanding lead in the third. When Yoshimura’s service return nestled into the bottom of the net, Ma had won China their third straight team gold.
China exits the Rio Olympics having swept table tennis: both China’s teams won gold, and both singles finals were all-Chinese affairs.
You can follow all the action from the Rio Games on NBCOlympics.com.
Germany claimed their second bronze medal in a row after defeating South Korea 3-1 in a four-hour marathon consolation final Wednesday morning.
For the Germans, the win furthers their claim as the best table tennis nation outside of Asia. To go along with their bronze medals from Rio and London, the German men’s team also claimed silver in Beijing eight years ago.
The first singles line gave an early indication of what was to come, as Jung Young-Sik took on Bastian Steger in a dogfight of a match. Jung won the first set 12-10 on the back of a late 3-0 run, but Steger answered back with an 11-6 win in the second. Jung would use a 6-0 run to catapult himself to an 11-6 victory in the third set, but Steger leveled the score again with an 11-6 win of his own.
Jung would take the match in a marathon fifth game. Facing two match points down 10-8, Jung rallied back, winning five of the next six points to win 13-11 and take the first line.
Down a match, Germany turned to world No. 5 Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second match. But Joo Sae-Hyuk would not go quietly into the night; the South Korean fought through a hotly-contested third set to win 11-8, then dominated Ovtcharov 11-2 in the fourth to even the match at two games all.
Now needing to win the decisive fifth game to avoid a 2-0 hole, Ovtcharov dug deep, breaking the tight match open at 5-all with a 6-1 run to win the second singles line and even the match.
The doubles would take on outsized importance now with each team capturing a line. South Korea rolled out Jung Young-Sik and Lee Sang-Su, while Germany countered with Timo Boll and Bastian Steger. After splitting the opening sets, Germany led wire-to-wire in game 3 to win 11-7. South Korea would answer back in the fourth with a 11-9 thriller, setting up the third fifth set in as many matches.
Down 3-1 early in the fifth, Germany went on a 5-0 tear to distance themselves from the Koreans, before using a 3-0 burst to retake the lead late on and win the decider 11-9.
Boll stayed on to play the singles line against Joo Sae-Hyuk. It was a tight affair throughout, but the experience and guile of the elder statesman Boll won out over the youthful exuberance of Joo in game 1, as the German took the set 11-8. He repeated the feat in the second game, winning 11-9. In the third, with Joo looking exhausted and defeated, Boll kept up the pressure, earning quadruple medal point at 10-6. Following a long rally, Joo’s forehand hit the net and rolled harmlessly back onto his side of the table. Boll threw his hands in the air as he was mobbed by his teammates and coach. Germany had won the bronze medal.
The table tennis action in Rio culminates this evening with the men’s gold medal match between China and Japan, which will get under way at 6:30 PM ET. You can stream that match live on NBCOlympics.com.