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July 28, 2011

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China raises young foreign 'wolves'

CHINA also dominates in table tennis, considered the national sport, and Chinese coaches are working with foreign teams. Some foreign players have been invited to train in China in a "wolf raising" program.

The best-known Chinese table tennis coach working overseas is Liu Guodong, elder brother of China's national coach Liu Guoliang. Liu Guodong joined Singapore's women's team in 2005 and became Singapore's head table tennis coach the next year.

He helped Singapore's women's team win silver in the 2006 Asian Games; the team reached the finals in the Olympic Games in Beijing two years later. That was Singapore's best achievement in 48 years.

As a table tennis powerhouse, China has been under constant pressure because it's so overwhelming.

Adham Sharara has been introducing new rules since he became the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) president in 1999. The reforms include using larger, slower balls; banning "speed glue" adhesive that increases the elasticity of the paddle; and implementing the 11-point, best-of-seven-games system.

However, the changes have not shaken China's absolute dominance. Since 1999, China won all the singles and doubles gold medals in world championships except for the men's singles title in 2003 (Paris), which was taken by Austria's Werner Schlager. China also collected all the Olympic golds since the 1996 Atlanta Games, except for the one taken by South Korean Ryu Seung Min in the men's singles during the 2004 Athens Games.

China has done more than just "export" domestic coaches.

In 2009, Chinese Table Tennis Association president Cai Zhenhua started a project nicknamed the "Wolf Raising Plan" to help foreign teams become more competitive. It sends more Chinese coaches and players abroad, while inviting foreign players to train in China. The plan also loosened restrictions on foreign players' participation in the Chinese Table Tennis Super League. The entry list for the new super league season includes household names like Germany's world No. 2 Timo Boll, Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea, and Fukuhara Ai of Japan.

With proper training, Asian athletes may have an advantage over Western table tennis players since they are generally smaller, quicker and more flexible.

Japan, the newly announced host of the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, has been active in player exchanges with China during the past few years. It made the imported Chinese players assistant coaches or training partners for their own players.

Despite its increased openness, China's National Table Tennis Team still keeps some secrets for itself and core team members never hold open trainings in public.


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