Athens 2004

August 23, 2004


Cai Zhenhua Talks About Losing The Gold Medal


The Chinese team did not sweep the table-tennis events. The most important gold medal, in men¡¯s singles, was won by the Korean player Ryu Seung Min. After that match, Cai Zhenhua suddenly looks older, and he walks more slowly than before. He talks about his own feelings with reporters: ¡°After sweeping the gold medals in the two previous Olympics, we failed to repeat. This is going to happen sooner or later, but it still feels like the ceiling has fallen down.


¡°This is a rather difficult Olympics for us. We have not done well from the beginning, we did not have anyone left in the bottom half, so it was very tough. The mental problems were most critical.¡±


The reporters asked: ¡°The technical abilities, the experiences and the past results of our players were not below those of our opponents, so why were we not as mentally strong as them? Was it because we placed too much gold medal pressure on them?¡±


¡°We have to admit that the external pressures were huge. Like today, when we lost one gold medal, people feel that the whole team lost. But you should understand from these few days that our advantages over our opponents are not that numerous. We had to fight hard in every match. But more people think that it is normal for us to win, and that we should not lose. Even some of our players feel that way. The pressure has got to be big¡±, Cai said.


¡°Even though our team has the technical superiority, overall the levels are about the same compared to others. The mental state is key. For example, Ryu was ahead in the match and was leading 8-4, but a slight mishandling of a point allowed Wang to come back and win that match. In the last game, Ryu was ahead 8-4 again, and was caught up 9-9. But he finally won because he has the better mental state, At 10-9, Ryu pushed a ball long to Wang¡¯s forehand. Tactically this was not an aggressive shot, but it was a variation. He was willing to let Wang Hao open the attack. But Wang missed the forehand loop, and Ryu won the match.¡±


The reporters asked: ¡°Wang won almost every time he played Ryu, but he lost this time. Do you think it is due to psychological reasons?¡±


¡°Yes. They are at about the same level, so the match was 50-50. But if your opponent thoroughly understand how you play, then psychologically the levels are now different. Wang¡¯s forehand is not as good as Ryu¡¯s, so he was afraid to use it. He mostly used his backhand, but once he made a few mistakes, he was afraid to use a lot of power¡±.


¡°So, according to what you just said, the Chinese do not hold any technical advantage over the Koreans?¡±


¡°Not exactly¡±, Cai said carefully. ¡°The Korean players are among the strongest in the world, and are one of the favorites to win. The development is very rapid in Asia, and Europe is not as good as Asia right now. But overall, the Chinese are still leading. What we need to raise is our mental ability¡±.


¡°If you were to give a score to the Chinese team, what would it be?¡±


¡°80%, and perhaps more¡±, Cai said after a while. ¡°We did not start the tournament well, but we still capture 3 gold medals. I think this shows a lot of positive things, besides the technical ability. I said we have some mental problems, but in many instances our players have shown excellent mental states. For instance, we won the men¡¯s doubles, women¡¯s singles and women¡¯s doubles not simply based on technical advantages. Zhang Yining easily beat Kim Hyang Mi, and her superior mental condition overcame her opponent. So I think 80% is too high a score to give the team¡±.


¡°Sharara, the ITTF president, said today that they are thinking of eliminating doubles at the Beijing Olympics, and replacing those with team competition. How would this affect China?¡±


¡°They asked for our thoughts on this. We think that the gold content of a team medal is very high, since it demonstrates the overall ability of a country more than any individual event, so we don¡¯t think it is a bad thing for us. Overall we are strong, so we are not afraid of any form of competition. Of course, beside skills, mental toughness is what we need to strengthen. This is the biggest lesson for us in these Olympics¡±, Cai said.

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