China "very likely" to sweep all four Olympic golds

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BEIJING, Sep 25 (Reuters) China's table tennis chief has backed his players to sweep all four titles at next year's Olympics, bucking the trend of Chinese sports officials downplaying prospects of a gold rush for the host nation.

Xu Yinsheng, speaking at the Asian championships in the eastern city of Yangzhou, said he expected China to match their domination of the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics.

''It's very likely that China will sweep the four golds,'' the president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association told the Xinhua news agency.

''I am only worried about home advantage turning into a double-edged sword.'' China won six of the seven titles on offer in Yangzhou last weekend, spearheaded by world number one Zhang Yining leading a podium sweep in the women's singles.

''Chinese women are odds-on favourites for the singlest title, while the men's singles is the most difficult,'' former world champion Xu said.

''Zhang is level-headed and technically solid, Wang Nan has immense battle experience and Guo Yue is aggressive and hungry.'' There were all-China finals in the four Olympic events and the only title the host country did not win was the mixed doubles.

World number two Wang Hao won the men's singles after world number one Ma Lin pulled out for health reasons.

Xu said he still thought Ma and world number three Wang Liqin, rested for the Asian championships, were China's best hopes of Olympic gold in the event.

''Wang Liqin is very strong and he has a good attitude to the sport,'' he said. ''His weakness is his inability to adapt to changes on the court.'' ''I admire Ma Lin's play,'' added Xu. ''He is very clever and always puts returns on places where his rival finds it difficult to cope with.'' Xu identified South Korea's 2004 Olympic men's singles champion Ryu Seung Min and Germany's former world number one Timo Boll as the biggest threats to China's hegemony in Beijing.

''Ryu is a fighter and Boll is nearly perfect technically,'' he said.

REUTERS BJR KN1710

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