Table tennis veteran and blind soccer players warm hearts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 September, 2008, 12:00am

China wins eight more golds, but others produce best stories

China won another eight gold medals yesterday at the Paralympics, taking its haul to 33.

But the highlights of the day came from a number of China's other Paralympians, including a veteran table tennis player and its visually impaired soccer squad, who did not finish in first place.

China now dominates the medal table, with a haul of golds six ahead of second-placed Britain and a total of 96 medals of all colours.

Zhang Xiaoling, who turned 51 in July, won a bronze medal in the women's Class 8 table tennis singles, and afterwards suggested her competitive days were over.

Zhang, a 10-time Paralympics champion and the oldest athlete in the Chinese delegation, outclassed Frenchwoman Claire Mairie in straight sets. She has won gold in the women's singles and team events at her impairment level at every Games since making her Paralympic debut in 1988.

Zhang had her right leg amputated above the knee at the age of 21 after an accident.

'I have nothing to complain about,' Zhang said. 'I have won plenty of golds in the Games. It's time for others.'

Zhang has become famous on the mainland thanks to her years of perseverance and gained some political prestige by being appointed to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

In five-a-side soccer for the visually impaired, the Chinese team rose to the occasion, edging past South Korea 1-0 for their third victory in three preliminary matches, after despatching Britain in the opener and then Argentina, the runner-up in Athens.

Now topping the six-team competition with a maximum 9 points, the previously unheralded Chinese team have a great chance of making it to the final next week.

The teams that come first and second in the preliminary round contest the final.

The team's scorching run has won the hearts of the soccer-loving public, who for years have been fed up with the pathetic performance of the country's able-bodied soccer players on the international stage.

Sports authorities have removed Xie Yalong as chairman of the Chinese Football Association, holding him accountable for the national team's early exit from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and a lacklustre performance in the Olympics.

The soccer administrators, as well as the players, have been the subject of media satire and public disdain.

Not so the sight-impaired squad.

'They have had a great game,' said Fang Shao, a Beijing retiree who attended the China-Korea encounter.

'We haven't beaten Korea for a long time in able-bodied soccer. It feels great to see this team achieve that. But I don't want to compare them with the able-bodied team. That would amount to an insult to these brave kids.'

Four of China's eight golds yesterday came in table tennis. Another came courtesy of Zhou Yangjing and Shan Zilong, who paddled to China's first Paralympic victory in rowing in the mixed doubles sculls.