SPORT-BY-SPORT GUIDE No 6: Table tennis: ATLANTA '96

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The Independent Online
The Chinese captured all seven world titles for only the second time in the game's history at home in Tianjin last year. Their men may not, however, be quite good enough to seize all four Olympic titles.

An unusual intervention could be made by a Chinese player who came to Britain, Chen Xinhua, an adopted Yorkshireman whose presence divided the table tennis establishment when he was controversially selected for England six years ago.

It also upset the hierarchy in China for whom he had twice been a member of world title-winning teams. They vetoed Chen representing Britain in Barcelona in 1992.

That seemed to have scuppered the emigre's chances of playing in an Olympic Games, because it appeared unlikely he would still be good enough for Atlanta at the age of 36. However, here he is, still in the world's top 20, though injury and controversy have taken their toll of his flamboyantly acrobatic defensive game.

There are also questions as to whether this itinerant maverick will turn up in Atlanta. Recently Chen unexpectedly took his wife, Jeanette, and his three British-born children back to live with him in Fukien, where he is making such large sums of money organising pre-season tours of China for leading English football clubs that he could be tempted to skip the Olympics.

Britain's other men's singles player, Carl Prean, has suffered a dip in his form over the past two years since he suffered a wrist injury, and Lisa Lomas's shoulder injury is so persistent that it is threatening her career. Another question is whether Chen and Prean could stand rooming together in Atlanta. In Tianjin, after Prean had declined to play because of injury, the two very nearly came to blows.

BRITISH TEAM: Men: Chen Xinhua, C Prean. Women: L Lomas, A Holt.

James Leigh

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