RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - China showed it has no plans to relinquish its table tennis crown any time soon, with its players grabbing six out of 12 medals on offer in Brazil, the maximum they are allowed by the rules to win.
The team, whose members are all among the world's top four men and women players, went unbeaten through the singles and team events, only allowing their opponents to celebrate small victories by dropping occasional games or points.
In the singles events, each match is the best of seven games. Rules introduced in 2012 after China swept all the singles medals in Beijing restrict each country to sending a maximum of two players to the men's and women's competitions.
"At the moment they're really dominating," said Thomas Weikert, president of the International Table Tennis Federation.
"The gap between China and the rest of the world is large, so everyone has to work on it."
China's Rio victories means that the country now possesses 28 out of 32 golds awarded since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988. It fielded Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Xu Xin in the men's events this year, and Ding Ning, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen in the women's.
Its dominance was evident not just in medal-winning but in player participation - out of 172 athletes, at least 27 originally hail from China but now play for other countries including Qatar, the United States and Congo.
Of the remaining medals, Japan took three and Germany took two, while North Korea claimed a podium spot in the women's singles with Kim Song-i, who beat much higher-ranked competitors including Japan's Ai Fukuhara while supported by her country's top government officials in the stands.
Still, some said they were now hopeful that Japan could become a stronger threat after its Rio performance, particularly as it looks to impress on home soil in Tokyo 2020.
"Every single day we (are) aiming to beat China, so we are going to carry on practising to beat China again," said Japan's Jun Mizutani, who won a bronze medal in the men's singles event.
"We totally, purely believe we can beat them in 2020."
Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Jan Harvey