China's Fan Zhendong hits a return to An Ji-song of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea during Monday's 3-1 victory in the team final at the 7th Military World Games in Wuhan. [Photo/Xinhua]China's Fan Zhendong hits a return to An Ji-song of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea during Monday's 3-1 victory in the team final at the 7th Military World Games in Wuhan. [Photo/Xinhua]
World No 2 saves his best for last as China strikes gold on the table
It was considered a must for China's Bayi men's team to win the first gold of the inaugural table tennis tournament at the 7th CISM Military World Games in Wuhan.
After surviving some tense moments, the squad, led by world No 2 Fan Zhendong, showed true steel in accomplishing that goal, prevailing 3-1 against DPR Korea in Monday's team final.
"I'm so happy to win the gold medal; that's the result of a great team performance," Fan told Xinhua.
"During the matches today every player on our team faced challenges and difficulties. We expected a tough situation before the match and we came prepared.
"We did not give up or panic. We have showed the strength of soldiers and of athletes. I'm very proud of our great team."
Even superstar Fan had to dig deep, especially when his opening opponent, Ham Yu-song, took the first set 11-9 to put fans in the arena on edge.
However, the Chinese idol drew on all his experience to win the next three sets (12-10, 11-7, 11-9) to pull out the victory.
Zhou Yu made it 2-0 before Zhou Kai lost the third match to Ro Hyon-song, forcing Fan to return to the table to secure gold.
Bayi team coach Wang Tao said he was"preparing for the hardest situation" before the final started.
"We lost the first set of the first match, and we were 8-10 down in the second," said Wang."But Fan Zhendong turned the situation around. He was the pillar of our team today. To be become a great player, you must manage to win even in the toughest situations. Fan did that today."
Although China has dominated world table tennis for decades, the DPR Korea squad was something of an unknown quantity for the Bayi team, despite the best efforts of coach Wang to study his opponents.
"It was very difficult to find information and videos of their previous games, and we were not familiar with their players," Wang said.
"The challenge for our players also included the pressure of their own mentality and playing in front of the home crowd. But I always told them that first of all you are a soldier and then you are an athlete."
The coach's words made a major impression on Fan, who said:"It's the first time for me to join the Military World Games as a Chinese soldier. This is a very special experience for me and I really want to contribute to earn honor for the Chinese military."