<
>

Li Xiaoxia wins women's singles gold

LONDON -- Li Xiaoxia won the women's Olympic singles table tennis gold medal Wednesday, defeating Ding Ning 4-1 in an all-China final. Feng Tianwei of Singapore defeated Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan 4-0 for the bronze.

China has won every women's singles gold medal in table tennis since the game was introduced at the Olympics in 1988. It has now won 21 of 25 gold medals in the sport and is expected to sweep all four gold medals in London in singles and team play.

Li represents the new generation, a 24-year-old who follows in a long line of Olympic women gold-medal winners in China's national pastime.

She follows icons Zhang Yining, who took four gold medals in the last two Olympics. Wang Nan won hers in three Olympics -- 2000, 2004 and 2008. Deng Yaping had four in 1992 and 1996.

Li has been known in China as Ms. No. 2, partly for matches she has lost to Ding, including the final in last year's world championship. That's no more. She still has a losing record against Ding in official matches. In 11 of those, she has won five.

But this one counted for much more.

The Chinese women and men swept three medals four years ago in Beijing. Trying to limit China's dominance, the governing body of the sport, the ITTF, limited singles entries this time to two per nation.

That helped Feng of Singapore take bronze. Feng was born in China, but was recruited to play for Singapore when she realized she had no chance of representing her native China.

It was a match of momentum. Li had it from the start and never lost it, playing close to the table and playing aggressively.

It also got testy. In the fourth game, Ding picked up a red card and a one-point penalty from Italian referee Paola Bongelli for using her towel during a non-break period. She also picked up several other penalties in the match for failing to toss the ball high enough on the serve.

The 22-year-old Ding -- the No. 1-ranked player in the game -- was the favorite going in, but could never wrest the momentum from Li.