Team Singapore

China coach Liu issues challenge to chasing pack

Chinese coach challenges other countries to up their game to make the sport more exciting

They have won 120 titles at the world championships, and 24 gold medals at the Olympic Games.

If other countries think that world No. 1 China are going to take their foot off the pedal, dream on.

Liu Guoliang, the national coach of the men's team, is adamant that the Chinese juggernaut will roll on and the onus is on the chasing pack to up their game.

Liu, 40, was speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Shah Alam, Kuala Lumpur, where the men's and women's teams are looking for their respective 20th titles.

The star-studded Chinese started their group campaigns with expected victories yesterday.

"China have been able to dominate the sport for decades because we have a good tradition and system behind the national sport, " said Liu, who is considered to be one of the greatest players to play the sport.

"I don't think we will see the day where China's standards will deteriorate on its own.

"The fans may have their own perspective (on the sport becoming too boring with China's dominance) but, from our viewpoint as athletes, we always want to win.

"Other countries should start paying more attention to the sport and pumping in more resources like we do. I believe they will be able to make breakthroughs if they do that."

Austria's former world champion Werner Schlager agreed with Liu's assessment.

The 43-year-old said: "The nice thing in table tennis is that there are always surprises - with changes such as new balls. It is possible to see Chinese players being surprised.

"But, if you ask me, no country are able to challenge China on a regular basis because they have a system where their players start very young."

Added the 2003 men's singles world champion: "You can find this depth of strength only in China."

While sports such as football and tennis are fast gaining popularity in China, Liu does not believe that table tennis will lose its lustre.

He said: "Sports like basketball and football are more universal and appeal to the masses, while a sport like table tennis is very niche and appeals to its unique audience.

"We have our own charm, and we are not fighting for the same piece of the pie with other sports."

- LIM SAY HENG

Liu Guoliangtable tennis