Feb 12. 2009 Yokohama – The competition of anniversaries
The 50th jubilee edition of the World Table Tennis Championships was held for the sixth time in Japan, but it was the first time for Yokohama to host such a huge international competition. The venue was the Yokohama Arena, which was modeled after the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Even if it is not that common for big stars to show up here daily, the Yokohama Arena, since its opening in 1989, have seen many famous singers to entertain the Japanese audience. Nevertheless, there was only one big sporting event in the Arena before the World Table Tennis Championships: in 2008 the K–1 World Grand Prix Final took place in the sold out venue.
While watching the pictures of the WCh the first thing that catches our eyes is that we cannot spot the mascot. The reason for it – even if it is very surprising because we are talking about Japan – is that there was not an offical mascot for the event. The competition’s offical logo shows Yokohama’s main symbol: its port. If we have a closer look on the image we can see that the person with a racket is actually an anchor.
The hosts may found it important to emphasize this feature of the city as Yokohama celebrated the 150th anniversary of the port’s opening, which they consider to be the birthday of the city. And they have a good reason to do it so. Not so long ago this oceanfront settlement was just a small fishing village with 400 inhabitants, but today it is Japan’s one of the most populated city – at the time of the WCh it was at the second place. This huge advancement was possible thanks to the opening of the Port of Yokohama.
Even though we are talking about an event which took place ten years ago, it does not mean that there were less table tennis lovers. We are not referring only to the professional players who participated in the competition, but it is true that the numbers of the event are jaw-dropping. Not less than 528 table tennis players and 378 doubles, coming from 101 countries went on to fight for the world champion title. The best proof of the determination and vocation of the players is the fact that Chen Yinghua at the age of 51 was also there to play, which made him to be the eldest competitor. Another proof can be the then 39-year-old Saive who participated in his 18th world championships consecutively. And talking about the fans: at the matches where Japanese players were involved, the number of the home fans could reach several of thousands, making a hard time for the opponents.
Of course, there were plenty of Chinese fans as well in the Yokohama Arena. This was not at all a suprise because it was expected that China will rule this world championships. The predictions proved to be true: China collected 17 of the available 20 medals. The Chinese dominance was even bigger as only players from China were standing on the podiums of the single and mixed doubles events. Although the 40% of the participating countries were from Europe, our continent could not achieve any medals. Timo Boll had only chance to stop the Chinese players, but right before the event the German player – for the second time in his career – had to step back from the competition because of a back injury. This way Wang Hao went on to get his first ever gold medal at the WChs, and he topped his performance with another win in the men’s doubles. In women’s singles Zhang Yining – even if it may sound unbelievable – could celebrate her 10th world champion title in Yokohama. Among the Hungarian players Krisztina Tóth was the most succesful one, as she reached the best 16 in women’s singles and doubles – with Georgina Póta on her side. We have to underline that Tóth only lost the match against Zhang Yining who later proved to be the best of the world.