Table tennis fans flood Sina Weibo calling for return of ex-boss Liu Guoliang as China crash to double defeat in Japan Open
Cracks are appearing a year after the all-conquering coach was forced to step down without explanation
China’s table tennis fans flooded Sina Weibo with calls for the return of former coach Liu Guoliang after China lost both their men’s and women’s singles crowns at the Japan Open over the weekend.
Former Team China head coach Liu led the nation to a decade of dominance but was forced to step down last year for unspecified reasons.
But fans cried for Liu’s return after watching young Japanese sensation Tomokazu Harimoto overcome 2012 London Olympic champion Zhang Jike 4-3 in the final for the men’s title.
Just two days earlier, 14-year-old Harimoto took down Rio 2016 champion Ma Long 4-2 in their final-eight encounter.
Further irking Chinese fans is the fact that Harimoto has Chinese parents – both are table tennis coaches from Sichuan and coach in Japan. Harimoto, along with his father and sister, became naturalised citizens of Japan in 2014, with the youngster also changing his name.
In the women’s final, 17-year-old Mima Ito of the hosts clinched the title with a 4-2 win over two-time world junior champion Wang Manyu of China. Wang is tied with her fellow teammate Zhu Yuling on top of the world rankings.
“There are nation traitors in our table tennis system [who removed Liu]. These results would certainly not happen if Liu was still in charge”, one fan claimed, while another said: “Liu, please return to the sport, we all miss you.”
Japan, who host the Olympic Games in two years, has already vowed to use their home advantage to overthrow China in table tennis and beyond.
China has won all 12 table tennis gold medals on offer across the last three Olympics, beginning their dominant run on home soil in Beijing in 2008.
The weekend’s results are further reason for concern for the once unbeatable Chinese legion and follows the chaos at last year’s China Open in Chengdu, Sichuan.
Just after Liu, who is now one of the vice presidents of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, was removed from his coaching post, his three top charges, Ma, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin, who together won the men’s team gold at the Rio Olympics, boycotted their round of 16 matches.
They also posted on Sina Weibo that they did not want to play because they missed their coach, but all three players later apologised, claiming they had boycotted “on impulse” and had tarnished the sport’s social image.