Syed set to rise above the feud

Rob Dorsett reports from Manchester on the table tennis players' quest for Atlanta places
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The Independent Online
There was much tension, much palm-wiping and not a little controversy at the European Olympic qualifying event yesterday.

Behind the action around the tables at the impressive Nynex Arena here is a bitter feud between the two British men who have already qualified for Atlanta by virtue of their world rankings. Carl Prean, ranked No 28 in the world, vowed that he would never play in the same team as the Chinese- born Chen Xinhua, the world No 18 who gained a British passport through marriage.

Prean has not played for England so far this season. That he will play for Britain in the Olympics this summer is justified by the fact that it is an individual event, so strictly speaking he will not be playing with Chen. It certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth for Don Parker, the British Olympic Association official who was England's table tennis team manager for 11 years. "Any player should be available for the national squad - unconditionally," he said. "It's about principles. No one should be allowed to say 'I'll play for England if such-and-such doesn't play'. I'm very surprised that Prean was selected for England."

Chen, 33, who is coaching Matthew Syed and Andrea Holt for this competition and plans to retire after the Olympics, agrees. "Prean is acting like a young boy," he said. "And if he is determined to act like that, I've got nothing to say to him. Sports people should play sport, not talk politics."

The issue could cause embarrassment for Britain at the Games, which begin in July, but Syed, the British No 3 who is on course for Atlanta after a third successive win yesterday, played down the problem. "As long as they don't have to share a room it shouldn't be a problem," he said.

Syed beat Thierry Miller yesterday to book his place in the second stage of competition with one group match left. He hopes the result, a repeat of his victory in the same competition four years ago, might be a lucky omen. "I'm quietly confident now that I will qualify. A lot depends on the draw."

He thinks he will have to play better if he comes up against Jorgen Persson. The Swedish former world champion, ranked 16th in the world, has the same, perfect record as Syed. Barring shocks, both should be going to Atlanta later this year.