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Women's ping pong World Cup upstaged by PM

Women's ping pong World Cup upstaged by PM

An enthusiastic crowd supporting China's winning team chanted and waved flags throughout the three-day competition.

The Women's Table Tennis World Cup at Olympic stadium last week marked the return

of Cambodia to the international sporting stage.

It was the first time since the 1966 Southeast Asian games that the country had hosted

a major international sporting event.

Although the competition attracted 16 of the world's top-ranked players, the emotional

highlight was the semi-final match between Taiwan's Chen Jing and China's Sun Jin,

which sparked loud verbal jousting between rival fans.

The flag-waving Chinese supporters - the majority of whom were students of Phnom

Penh's Chinese schools - were reminded early on exactly who they were there to support

after being censured by Chinese reporters for cheering Chen during her match with

Nigeria's Oshonaike.

"They are very confused," hissed a TV reporter from China when asked by

the Post why the group was barred from showing support for Chen who had been a member

of the Chinese team before defecting to Taiwan.

And the surprise arrival of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday, Jan 30, while a welcome

boost for sport in the country, caused dismay amongst players and officials by disrupting

the last moments of the crucial semi-final game.

"I've never seen anything like this before in all my years of officiating,"

competition manager Zlatko Cordas told the Post .

I asked them to wait one minute, just one minute for the players to finish, but they

refused, citing 'security reasons'," he said.

Hun Sen's entrance, punctuated by an accompanying brass band and a six-minute Khmer-language

introduction of the Prime Minister, occurred during the second-to-last set of a hotly-contested

match between Taiwan's Chen and China's Sun, world ranked fourth and sixth respectively.

Chen and Sun spent the six-minute delay in their game looking both angry and bewildered

at the interruption, sentiments shared by numerous members of the 17 top-ranked women's

table tennis players watching from the sidelines.

"Unbelievable," said Nigeria's Olufunke Oshonaike, shaking her head in

disbelief, adding that she had never before seen such a situation occur at an international

competition.

The interruption marked a turning point in Chen's game, with Sun quickly gaining

momentum for victory and relegating Chen to fourth place overall in the competition.

World's fourth-ranked competitor Chen Jing of Taiwan fires off a trademark backhand return in the semifinal match against China's Sun Jin. Minutes later, the surprise arrival

of PM Hun Sen brought the game to a temporary halt.

Following Chen's defeat, China's Li Ju, ranked second in the world, upset number-one

ranked compatriot Wang Nan by winning three out of four hard-fought sets, allowing

Li to take first place in the competition.

The Jan 28-30 competition was sponsored by the Thai Boon Roong company of Cambodian

tycoon Teng Bun Ma, who sat throughout much of the competition on a special viewing

platform for government and diplomatic officials.

The dilapidated Olympic Stadium venue had been a source of concern for organizers

and players alike.

But substantial sums were invested to bring the venue up to international standard,

including the installation of 10 new air-conditioning units and new ceiling lights.

However, sporadic running water in the facility and screeches from some of the thousands

of bats that nest in the stadium's roof were reminders of the challenges faced by

organizers.

"It's taken a lot, but [Olympic Stadium] is up to table tennis international

standards," organizer Cordas explained. "When bat droppings land on a table

or near a player, we just wipe it up in five seconds and it's gone."

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