The Olympic Games 2016 are finished, while the Paralympics are in full swing. It is time for us to take a look at the results, focusing on the german national team. Who better to do it than longtime Butterfly coach Richard Prause? Richies has been on the front line at the Olympics, witnessing everything first hand – the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the singles tournament
It has been a tournament riddled with surprises, showing us how much closer together the teams all over the world have grown in terms of playing level. Also, the Olympics seems to have its own rules. Well-established players such as Timo Boll (GER) or Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) started with high ambitions. Who would have thought both would loose to Nigerian athlete Quadri Aruna? Aruna impressed with his unorthodox playing style on the backhand side and incredible acceleration on the forehand. Most of the longer rallys between him and Chuang or Boll were won by Aruna. What might have happened, had Timo fully recovered from trailing 0-3 by winning also the sixth game to equalize to 3-3? He sure was close to it, but we’ll never know. Quadri Aruna on the other hand was proud to be the first player from Africa to enter the quarter final stage at the Olympic games. Cudos!
Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Germany’s top player also started with the highest ambitions. After defeating Li Ping and Bojan Tokic, “Dima” was hungry to overcome veteran player Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) as well to enter the semi final stage. In Rio, it was obvious he had improved his technique – especially visible in all games he won in such a dominant fashion. Dima displayed improved skills in his serve/receive game over the table, but he clearly did not expect such heavy resistance as he found in Samsonov. The 39 year-old was fighting to the bone, always anticipating Dima’s placement and spin flawlessly. When he blocked the heavy topspin of his opponent back onto the table – far into the corner and impossible to reach for the German – Vladimir Samsonov instead of Dimitrij Ovtcharov entered the semi finals of the Olympics for his first chance at winning a medal.
The team competition – Dima and Timo refreshed, Steger at all-time high
The German team was obiviously disappointed after their two best players were eliminated early in the tournament. For them it became crucial to start up once more and enter the team competition in a positively motivated fashion. Their first-round match was against Taiwan and its top player Chuang Chih-Yuan. Since he and Germany’s Timo Boll lost to underdog Quadri Aruna, it was the perfect situation to show which one had processed the defeat more quickly. It seems that Timo did, and Chuang failed once again in displaying what he is capable of. In fact, both Timo and Dima seemed “refreshed” and played at the top of their level as if the singles competition never happened – defeating Chen and Chuang for the first 2 points. But it turned out to be Germany’s number 3 player Bastian Steger who was the real sensation. With supreme athletics and versatile play, Steger overcame Top-10 player Chuang in 3 straight games, while securing a spot for Germany in the quarter finals.
There, Germany stepped up against long-time European rival Austria. The last match against Austria, at the European Championships 2015 was lost, so Germany looked to setting the record straight. Once again, it was Bastian Steger who scored the final blow. After Ovtcharov and Boll did their part in setting the stage, Steger once again won convincingly against Austria’s top player Stefan Fegerl. So much like 2004, 2008 and 2012 Germany went on to the semi finals at the Olympics. The next opponent: Japan
Final destination: Mizutani
Jun Mizutani, winning Bronze medal in the Singles competition was arguably playing his best table tennis ever at the Olympics in Rio. He had improved not only in his backhand, but most prominently in the sheer power of his topspins. In such a state, he convincingly beat Timo Boll (Who had won 16 out of 17 games against Mizutani before) and Bastian Steger to score two crucial points to Japan. Dima Ovtcharov did his best to hold up the German flag, but the narrow defeat in the doubles meant Germany was out and Japan would proceed to the finals.
A conceivable final it was against table tennis superpower China, the game went 3-1 to the Chinese, yet Butterfly Star Jun Mizutani managed to hold his own in the match, beating for the first time ever the penhold player Xu Xin. Alas it was not enough for the team, so China once again prevailed in the finals and added yet another golden medal to its impressive collection in olympic table tennis.
Bronze or bust!
The final result was a satisfying 3-1 win for Germany, a game fought on a very high technical and physical level. Germany and especially Timo Boll experienced some moments of fear, when Boll reached for a ball during the doubles match and injured his neck. Team physician Toni Kass entered the scene to care for Timo Boll, who had to endure moments of uncertainty whether he would be able to continue playing. After a total of 7 injections, Timo returned to the table to play, reluctant and cautious at first, but increasingly relaxed after the pain subsided. With a fantastic performance against defender Joo Saehyuk (KOR), Timo scored the final point in winning a bronze medal. The result is a testament to the hard work and dedication of every member of the team. It is impossible to praise just a single player when Timo Boll, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Bastian Steger as well as the supporting player Patrick Franziska and head coach Jörg Roßkopf all have done a wonderful job in Rio.
Team China keeps on dominating the table tennis scene and I am really anxious to see who could possibly be tearing a hole into the great wall of Tabletennis-China in the coming years. In Germany, we will certainly keep trying.
I’d like to add a few words about Ma Long. Seeing him play at the Olympics, I believe he has further improved (if that is even possible). He seemed more mature, playing at times on his own level, above everyone else. Jung Youngsik and Jun Mizutani were able to offer some resistance, at least proving it is possible to win games against him. But it is indeed high praise if the general head coach Liu Guoliang says that Ma Long currently plays “very, very well”.
Silver medal – a fitting reward for the Women’s team
Han Ying gave a hint at her potential after winning the round of 16 match in the single’s competition – and showed that there would be more to expect from her in Rio. Petrissa Solja and Shan Xiaona, who much like Han had never played at the Olympics before, were also able to play their best table tennis in Rio. Where the victory over team USA came more or less expected, the match against Hongkong showed what Germany’s team was really capable of. And then there was that semi-finals match against Japan. Nailbiting barely captures the essence of it. But was Germany’s close triumph really a sensation? Barely, I think since the team of national coach Jie Schöpp managed to beat Japan at the World Championships in Malaysia just a few months back. But the Olympics tend to play by their own rules, nothing is safely-assumed. In situations such as Petrissa Soljas’ 3-9 trail in the decisive game against Mima Ito, the German players pulled together everything they could muster. Solja won, and the determination in the face of the japanese players subsided. The doubles match – a strongpoint of Japan’s Ai Fukuhara and Mima Ito was decided by 2 points won by “Nana” and “Peti”, which also came unexpected for Japan. When Han Ying scored the final point against Ai Fukuhara, once again at 11-9 in the seventh game, the German team was elated, I even saw a few well-deserved tears! A medal was safe for Germany, silver at the least.
The final’s match was thouroughly dominated by Team China as was expected. Germany was at least able to win a game, one of only 5 games dropped by China at the Olympics – impressive. Winning the silver medal was a huge success for the German Ladies and I cannot stress enough that the hard work and dedication of everyone on the time contributed to that success.
In the Singles’ final, Ding Ning won against comrade Li Xiaoxia, which promted Li to end her very successful career following the Olympics, and Ding Ning crowned herself World and Olympic Champion. What a feat!
Overall the Olympics in Rio did lack a certain flair felt 2000 in Sydney or 2008 in Beijing, at least in my opinion. But the Olympic games happen only once every four years and will most likely always be the most significant event in a players career. Germany can look back at the Olympics 2016 with the certainty, that our “mission” in winning two medals has been accomplished.
Well done, everyone!