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Fighting spirit, makes Hong Kong major contenders in Tokyo

Monday 05 April

Success on Friday 24th January at the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament in Gondomar secured Hong Kong a place in the women’s team event at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The top seeds, just one engagement, Doo Hoi Kem, Lee Ho Ching and Minnie Soo Wai Yam recorded a 3-0 win against the Belarus trio formed by Nadezhda Bogdanova, Viktoria Pavlovich and Daria Trigolos.

Now, the question posed is can they achieve what has never been achieved in the past; since table tennis was first introduced to the prestigious quadrennial gathering, in the women’s events, Hong Kong has never won a medal.

Does the women’s team competition give Hong Kong, the best possible chance of ending the drought?

Ever present in the event since introduced into the schedule in 2008 in Beijing, Hong Kong has always been competitive. In China’s capital city, represented by Lau Sui Fei, Lin Ling and Tie Yana; in the bronze medal play-off contest, it was a 3-1 defeat when facing Japan’s Sayaka Hirano, Ai Fukuhara, Haruna Fukuoka.

In 2012 in London, a 3-0 quarter-final defeat at the hands of the Korea Republic’s Kim Kyungah, Seok Hajung and Dang Yeoseo was the outcome. Four years later in Rio de Janeiro it was farewell in the same round, a 3-1 defeat against Germany’s Han Ying, Petrissa Solja and Shan Xiaona ended aspirations.

On both occasions Tie Yana and Lee Ho Ching were present; Jang Huajun played in London, being replaced by Doo Hoi Kem in Rio de Janeiro. In Tokyo, for the first time since the team events were introduced, there will be no Tie Yana but is the trio that will appear in Japan’s capital city, the most competitive ever?

Consider the results in recent years. At the World Team Championships in 2014 in Tokyo and in 2018 in Halmstad, they were bronze medallists; in 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, quarter-finalists. At the Team World Cup, in 2018 London they were semi-finalists, in 2019, as in Kuala Lumpur, a departure in the round of the last eight.

Impressive but one fact to note is not necessarily their successes, when they lose, time and again they make their mark, rarely do they go down without a fight, a big fight.

At the 2014 World Team Championships, they experienced a 3-1 penultimate round when facing Japan. Lee Ho Ching beat Yuka Ishigaki in straight games but the next three matches were all decided in full distance contests. On each occasion Japan emerged successful. Kasumi Ishikawa beat Jang Huajun and Lee Ho Ching; sandwiched in between, Sayaka Hirano overcame Ng Wing Nam.

Two years later, in Kuala Lumpur a 3-2 defeat was the result when facing Chinese Taipei for a semi-final place. Cheng I-Ching beat both Tie Yana and Doo Ho Kem; similarly, Chen Szu-Yu accounted for Tie Yana; for Hong Kong Doo Hoi Kem accounted for Chen Szu-Yu, Lee Ho Ching beat Cheng Hsien-Tzu.

Defeat in the Malaysian capital city, two years later in Halmstad the decision was reversed. In the opening round, a 3-1 margin of victory was secured. Doo Hoi Kem accounted for both Liu Hsing-Yin and Cheng I-Ching; Lee Ho Ching defeated Chen Szu-Yu. The one win for Chinese Taipei was claimed by Cheng I-Ching in opposition to Minnie Soo Wai Yam.

The trio progressed to beat Romania’s Daniela Monteiro Dodean, Elizabeta Samara and Bernadette Szocs, before causing quite a sensation when, at the semi-final stage, facing China.

In the opening match, Minnie Soo Wai Yam beat Ding Ning in straight games; immediately following Doo Hoi Kem extended Zhu Yuling the full five games distance. Hong Kong was in a whisker of a 2-0 lead!

Less dramatically Liu Shiwen overcame Lee Ho Ching, Ding Ning beat Doo Hoi Kem to seal a 3-1 overall victory. Notably both Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning needed four games to seal success; not one Chinese win was gained in straight games; that’s not the norm and pays credit to the Hong Kong trio.

Prior to Halmstad, at the 2018 Team World Cup, bronze had been the result; the same selections, at the quarter-final stage a 3-0 win had been recorded against Romania before defeat had been experienced against China by the same margin. Facing China, Ng Wing Nam was preferred to Minnie Soo Wai Yam, for China it was the same trio as later in the year.

A comprehensive defeat at the hands of China but the only occasion when, in recent times, Hong Kong had been soundly beaten.

Fast forward one year, the 2019 Team World Cup, just as in 2014 when facing Chinese Taipei, it was disappointment, a quarter-final defeat but yet again a full distance contest. Cheng I-Ching beat Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching, Chen Szu-Yu overcame Minnie Soo Wai Yam; for Hong Kong, Lee Ho Ching and Minnie Soo Wai Yam secured the doubles against Chen Szu-YU and Cheng Hsien-Tzu; Doo Hoi Kem accounted for Cheng Hsien-Tzu.

At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it will be approaching two years since that defeat; there may not have been a plethora of international action owing to the pandemic, but the ages of the Hong Kong players suggest they are in their peak years. In Tokyo, Lee Ho Ching, at 29 years of age will be the senior player, Doo Hoi Kem, 25 years old, Minnie Soo Wai Yam, two years younger.

Surely it is the best chance to date for Hong Kong to gain a medal in a women’s events at an Olympic Games; they now have the experience, most importantly they have the spirit.

Editor: Ian Marshall

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