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Still the best ever and the equal of the best

Wednesday 07 April

A silver medal in the men’s doubles event at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching hold a special status; not just at the celebrated quadrennial event but when international play in general is considered.

They are the only players from Hong Kong to win a medal in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games.

Ko Lai Chak, left handed, shake hands grip, Li Ho Ching right handed, penhold grip formed the classic partnership; some years before Li Ching had experimented somewhat by using the shake hands technique but by the time play in the Galatsi Stadium had started, he was back to the original style.

The no.3 seeds, they were placed at the very bottom of the draw; as previously only two pairs from the same National Olympic Committee were allowed but in order that the final could not be contested by compatriots, the regulation was introduced that pairs from the same National Olympic Committee must be placed in the same half of the draw.

In the men’s doubles, such a regulation proved unnecessary, in their very first match, China’s Kong Linghui and Wang Hao, the no.2 seeds, experienced defeat at the hands Sweden’s Jörgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner (8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-6, 12-10), despite their pedigree not seeded. Alas for the European duo there was no further progress; in the next round they lost to Denmark’s Michael Maze and Finn Tugwell (11-5, 8-11, 11-8, 12-10, 12-10), the eventual bronze medallists.

Not a Chinese pair in sight, Ko Lai Chak and Lee Ho Ching took full advantage of the situation. They beat Korea Republic’s Joo Saehyuk and Oh Sangeun (11-8, 11-9, 11-3, 5-11, 14-12), before accounting for Slobodan Grujic and Aleksandar Karakasevic on duty for Serbia and Montenegro (11-5, 11-9, 5-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-5) and Russia’s Dmitrij Mazunov and Alexey Smirnov (11-5, 11-9, 5-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-6) to reach the final.

Facing the top seeds in the gold medal contest, they suffered at the hands of Chen Qi and Ma Lin (11-6, 11-7, 7-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-5), likewise a left handed and right handed combination with Chen Qi being the shake hands grip player, Ma Lin the pen-holder.

A silver medal the outcome but looking further afield Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching are more than the equal of all partnerships; from 2002 to 2007 they established a very special status. They won no less than 11 ITTF World Tour men’s doubles titles.

No pair has won more and only one can match that record, Chen Qi and Ma Lin!

Editor: Ian Marshall

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