Facing the Motherland is bittersweet for China's emigres

Sat Jul 23, 2016 9:24pm EDT
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By Brenda Goh

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - For former Chinese athletes that now compete for other countries' flags, an Olympic meeting with the Motherland at Rio de Janeiro will be bittersweet.

Scores of China-born athletes have switched citizenship in the two decades since the Asian powerhouse returned to the Olympic fold in 1984, driven by stiff competition for national team places that has shut out many aspiring Olympians.

The Chinese emigres are most apparent in the table tennis tournament at Rio, where China is expected to dominate as usual.

Discounting 12 players competing for China, Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan, 27 of the 140 entrants in the singles were born in China but will represent nations like Portugal, Qatar and Republic of Congo.

"The first feeling if I meet them (in competition) is that I'm very unlucky, because it's very difficult to beat them and it feels like the match may be over very quickly," Melek Hu, who will represent Turkey in her second Olympics after moving there about a decade ago, told Reuters in a phone interview.

"But the Chinese team represents the highest level of competition, one also wants to see how wide the gap is between them and I. After all, you won't always get a chance to exchange blows with such high standards."

China has won 24 out of 28 gold medals since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988 and is known for its cutthroat selection and military training drills.

In 2012, the game's rules were changed to allow each country to only enter two players into the singles events, preventing one country from winning all the medals as China did at the 2008 Beijing Games.   Continued...

Melek Hu of Turkey returns a ball to Fang Zhu of Spain in their quarterfinal match of the women's singles at the 2010 European Table Tennis Championships in Ostrava, September 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Petr Josek