Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2012 3:11 PM

Li Xiaoxia wins women's singles gold for China

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LONDON (AP) - Nobody seemed particularly happy with China's first table tennis gold medal at the London Olympics.

The gold-medal winner Li Xiaoxia called it her "dream since being a little girl,'' but she was mostly subdued after her upset victory over teammate Ding Ning on Wednesday.

She raced to the stands to get a Chinese flag and waved it around for a few moments, but the celebration didn't last long. Afterward, she was short with emotional words - both with Chinese and non-Chinese reporters - and kept the stern, serious face she had while playing Ding.

"Today I performed better than expected,'' she said. "I would like to thank my parents. They have sacrificed a lot to make my dreams come true.''

Asked when she would celebrate, she said it would have to wait until after the upcoming team competition.

After that?

"I don't know. I haven't thought about it,'' she said.

Ding was the emotional one - talkative, upset and pleading her case.

Usually upbeat and open, Ding cried afterward and suggested Italian referee Paola Bongelli may have cost her a gold medal. Winning golds in pingpong confers immediate celebrity status in China, and 22-year-old Ding - the pre-match favorite - knew she missed out with as many as 500 million Chinese watching at home on TV.

"I didn't do very well,'' she said. "I had an obstacle today, not only from the opponent but from the umpire.''

That's how China's expected sweep of four gold medals in table tennis began: complaining about the officiating in a match against a teammate before a 6,000 sellout with half the fans carrying red and yellow Chinese flags.

Feng Tianwei of Singapore defeated Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan 4-0 for bronze. Feng was born in China and was recruited to play in Singapore when it became clear she would not make China's team.

The men's final is Thursday, with the semifinals coming first featuring Zhang Jike of China against Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany, and Wang Hao of China against Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan.

The two Chinese are favored.

China has now won 21 of 25 gold medals since the game was introduced in the 1988 Olympics and is widely expected to win three more in London.

Li represents the new generation, a 24-year-old who follows in a long line of Olympic women gold-medal winners in what is China's national pastime. She follows sports icons Zhang Yining, who took four gold medals in the last two Olympics. Wang Nan won hers in three Olympics - 2000, 2004 and 2008. And Deng Yaping started the string with 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 was asked several times if the victory erased her No. 2 status.

Li's reply was muted and a throwback to a time when Chinese athletes seldom spoke to reporters.

"There is no second,'' she szaid. "Everyone is first.''

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Follow Stephen Wade at https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

 
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