Thirty-eight of the 44 Chinese table tennis players who are competing at the Rio Olympics are actually playing there to represent other nations.
Playing for countries like Spain, the Republic of the Congo, Qatar, France, Austria, Canada, Slovakia, Ukraine and Singapore, these talented Chinese athletes represent a sizable number from the overall total of 172 table tennis players.
According to the New York Times, player Ni Xialian was among those who made the move to a different team from China. Back in 1983, Ni won a gold medal at the World Table Tennis Championships representing her home country.
She moved to the German team six years later, before permanently staying in Luxembourg to officially play for their national team in 1991.
“There was too much competition. I didn’t have the courage anymore,” the 53-year-old, China-born athlete told The New York Times. She represented her adopted country again, for her 3rd Olympic competition, this year in Rio.
While it is common to find an athlete represent other countries in Olympic competitions, having 31% of table tennis players hailing from a single country, is highly unprecedented and certainly unusual.
According to the rules of the Table Tennis Federation, players who choose to play for another country after turning 21 will not be able to play in world championships, the World Cup or the World Team World Cup. The Olympics, however, is an exception.
Li Ping, another import from China, now plays for Qatar, while Feng Tianwei, Zhou Yihan and Yu Mengyu are all Chinese nationals who are representing Singapore.
“There was a gap, in technique and experience, between me and the players more senior than me. I understood why others were picked ahead of me,’” Yu told The Strait Times in an interview. “Competing is a privilege reserved for only the best in China. Before I came to Singapore, I couldn’t take part in professional tournaments or major games. My dreams felt impossible.”