TOKYO — HIGHLIGHTS FROM RIO: China won all four gold medals in Rio. It was China versus China in the women’s singles gold medal match, with Ding Ning beating teammate Li Xiaoxia, reversing the result from the London Games. A rule change ahead of Rio that many saw as aimed squarely at China meant that each country can now only send two players for singles, opening up the bronze medal for other nations. In Rio, the women’s singles’ honors fell to Kim Song I of North Korea who beat veteran Ai Fukuhara of Japan. … The men’s gold medal match was also an all-China affair. The world champion, Ma Long, beat the defending champion, Zhang Zike, for the title. Jun Mizutani of Japan took bronze over former No. 1 Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus.
TOKYO EXPECTATIONS: More Chinese supremacy? Very likely, and with a new mixed doubles event, there might be more golden opportunities for China. Rio was the third straight Olympics where Chinese men have taken both gold and silver. Chinese women have won every gold singles’ medal in the sport. But there are some interesting possible roadblocks to Chinese domination, especially from hometown favorite Japan. The sport is very popular in here, and Japan had a taste of glory in 2016, when Mizutani took bronze.
ATHLETES TO WATCH: China, again. Ma Long is back to defend his title, along with world No. 1 Fan Zhendong of China. On the women’s side, watch for world No. 1 Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, both, of course, from China.
China is so strong that the women’s world champion, Liu Shiwen, didn’t even make the women’s singles’ team, though she will play the team events.
Playing for an upset, or for bronze, will be everyone else.
Tomokazu Harimoto, only 18 and the son of two former Chinese pro players, may be Japan’s best hope on the men’s side. Mima Ito is world No. 2 and helped Japan to bronze in the women’s team competition in Rio.
GOLD MEDAL MOMENTS: July 26: Mixed Doubles Gold Medal Match; July 29: Women’s Singles Gold Medal Match; July 30: Men’s Singles Gold Medal Match; Aug. 5: Women’s Team Gold Medal Match; Aug. 6: Men’s Team Gold Medal Match