Wang Hao ends storied career on China’s table tennis team

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-3 5:03:03

Wang Hao serves during a match at the Table Tennis National Games in Shenyang, Liaoning Province on September 4, 2013. Photo: CFP

China's table tennis world champion Wang Hao finished his career as a professional player earlier this month without a gold medal for an Olympic singles title.

After 16 years on the national team, Wang is well-known among both domestic and foreign fans.

Wang announced his retirement at a private party for his teammate Hao Shuai's son. An emotional Wang offered a toast and made the announcement, which had been widely expected, according to Table Tennis World magazine.

He expressed his gratitude to teammates and coaches, some of whom were present at the birthday party, including Liu Guoliang, the head coach of the national table tennis team. Wang was one of Liu's most accomplished apprentices on the team.

Wang's gold medal-studded career was not without regrets. Wang, now 31 years old, has won an astonishing 18 world championships since he joined the national team in 1998, but failed break through in three Olympics singles finals in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

The defeats shocked millions of Chinese sports lovers. Each time during the live broadcast, the entire country felt the pain of him seeing Olympic titles slip through his fingers.

He admitted to the media that he was emotional after winning the silver in 2004. In 2012 he also cried, not because he had lost, but because it would be his last trip to the Olympics.

Now Wang can shrug off expectations and talk about the lost matches with a smile on face. "Three Olympic titles can't compare with 18 world champion titles," he told the Beijing Youth Daily.

The most valuable title for him, he said, was the men's group title in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. "That glory, and a feeling of mission accomplished burned my blood. Me and Ma Lin, Wang Liqin and coach Liu Guoliang all cried and huddled together," he remembered.

Wang has been ranked among the world's top six players for more than 11 years, and is still the sixth ranked player globally. His retirement fueled speculation as to the true reasons behind it.

"In fact, with such a wealth of talent for China to choose from, it begs the question as to whether Wang voluntarily chose to swap his playing days for coaching duties, or whether he was ushered out the door to make way for younger players, such as 17-year-old prodigy Fan Zhendong, already the world No.3," wrote freelance sports reporter Mark Dreyer, raising a question that many may ask.

In fact, Wang considered retirement right after the 2012 London Olympic Games. However, in order to help a younger generation of national team members develop, Wang said, he stayed with the team until the Tokyo World Table Tennis Championships in April and May, where Zhang Jike, Ma Long and Xu Xin won the men's group title. It was then he felt that the time had come.

The national table tennis team is home to the world's best players and is extremely competitive. At the age of 31, Wang's retirement was hardly surprising. The men's national team is in transition as veteran players such as Ma Lin, Wang Liqin and Wang Hao all choose to retire and make way for younger players. Wang is expected to return to the Bayi Team of the People's Liberation Army, where he trained before entering the national team. He will be part of team's coaching staff.

Some retired sports stars have moved on to careers as performers. But having been trained in the military discipline of the PLA since he was very young, Wang said he is not considering show business as he dislikes it.

Others among China's former sports champions have entered the business world and started their own companies. The most famous, gymnastics Olympic champion Li Ning, started a sportswear company with his name as the brand. Other examples include gymnast Li Xiaoshuang and table tennis Olympic champion Deng Yaping, who both used their own names as the brand.

Some of Wang's friends have told him he should use his fame to start a businesses, he said, but he's barely considered anything not having to do with table tennis. "The national team put a lot of work into training me. All the experience I have in the sport [as a result], I hope won't be wasted," he said. He will follow in the footsteps of table tennis superstars Liu Guoliang and Kong Linghui, who both stayed in the sport as coaches.

Many observers believe that Wang, together with his teammates Wang Liqin and Ma Lin, has reached the end of his playing career, and that his retirement is only natural. Team China is packed with talented players, making it only a matter of time before new faces outshine old superstars. This level of competitiveness has driven a number of Chinese table tennis players overseas to represent other countries.

"Most countries would be feting Wang for his incredible career - British athletes have been knighted for far less - but Wang's birthplace means that he will go down in history as just another champion," wrote Dreyer.

But personally for Wang Hao, who had already gradually faded from the public eye since his marriage in 2013, becoming a coach and training the next generation of tennis table champions just might be an ideal fit.

Global Times
Newspaper headline: Going out a champion

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