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Top table tennis athletes to watch in Rio

USA TODAY Sports

Top table tennis athletes to watch in Rio

Here are five big table tennis names to keep an eye on at the Rio Games

Hundreds of athletes will compete in the table tennis tournaments at the Rio Games, but some are more recognizable than others. Here are five players you should keep an eye on at the upcoming Olympics.

  • The U.S.’ Lily Zhang fights in singles, team 



USA Table Tennis CEO Gordon Kaye with Olympian Lily Zhang.

USA Table Tennis CEO Gordon Kaye with Olympian Lily Zhang.


Lily Zhang is the United States’ most experienced Olympics singles player, having competed in that category (and women’s team) at the London 2012 Games. (Timothy Wang competed in men’s singles at the London 2012 Games, but will only compete in men’s team at the Rio Games.) 

Table tennis star Lily Zhang talks Rio, her lucky racket, and T-Swift

Zhang will compete in women's singles and team at the Rio Games.

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Zhang, only 20, now has the opportunity to play again at the Rio Games. Since London, she’s won a bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and a bronze in women’s singles at the 2015 Pan American Games.

She’s also starred in a documentary, Top Spin, and started college at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Teenage table tennis players aim for Olympics in "Top Spin"

Recent doc "Top Spin" captures the intensity of three young table tennis players trying to compete at the 2012 Olympics. 

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  • Kanak Jha is the first U.S. Olympian born in the 2000’s



Kanak Jha will compete at the Rio Games.

Kanak Jha will compete at the Rio Games.

Kanak Jha made headlines when he won at April’s Olympic Trials: the Californian is the first U.S. Olympian born in the 2000’s. (In an interview with NBC Olympics, he confirms he knows what Pokemon are – so perhaps the generational divide isn’t so great.) 

Kanak Jha ushers Generation Z into the Olympics

Table tennis Olympian Kanak Jha, now 16, will play in men's singles and team at Rio.

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Jha, who recently turned 16, has spent the past months training in Sweden. He will compete in men’s singles and team at the Rio Games.

  • Ding Ning wants singles revenge




London 2012 women's singles silver medalist and team gold medalist Ding Ning (CHN). Credit: Bob Donnan

China’s Ding Ning, 26, lost to compatriot Liu Shiwen in the women’s singles final at the London 2012 Games. Her frown on the podium was second only to McKayla Maroney’s in terms of prominence. 

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Now the World No. 2, Ding will compete again in women’s singles and team at the Rio Games. To win gold, she’ll have to overcome rival Liu, who will also play singles at the upcoming Olympics. 

  • Ma Long attempts rare “career Grand Slam” 




Ma Long will compete in men's singles and team at the Rio Games. Credit: James Lang

Only four male table tennis players have achieved the sport’s “career Grand Slam”, which includes singles wins at the Olympics, World Championships and World Cup: Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner, China's Liu Guoliang, Kong Linghui and Zhang Jike.

China’s Ma Long, the current World No. 1 who has held the top spot on-and-off for more than six years, will get the opportunity to become the fifth “Slam” winner in Rio. At the upcoming Olympics, he will compete in both men’s singles and team.

  • Dimitrij Ovtcharov goes for third medal in three Olympics




Dimitrij Ovtcharov will compete in men's singles and team at the Rio Olympics. Credit: Richard Mackson

Germany's 27-year-old Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the male World No. 5 table tennis player, won silver at team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and took bronze in both singles and team at the 2012 London Games. He continues to rack up medals at prestigious tournaments using his odd serve, which was selected by TIME Magazine as one of 2008’s top 50 innovations

 

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