(LR) Lin Gaoyuan (China) and Lily Zhang take on Emmanuel Lebesson and Jia Nan Yuan (France) in the mixed doubles quarter-finals at the 2021 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships on November 27, 2021 in Houston.
Fifty years after the United States and China embarked on what has become “ping-pong diplomacy,” table tennis players from the two countries have come together to form a pair of mixed doubles teams. to compete in the finals of the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships in Houston.
One of those teams, American Lily Zhang and Chinese Lin Gaoyuan, reached the semi-final on Sunday at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Despite a 2-0 delay, Zhang and Gaoyuan rallied to tie the game at two games apiece before dropping the deciding game to Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto and Hina Hayata. The Japanese duo’s 3-2 victory came 11-9, 11-1, 6-11, 8-11, 11-2.
Even with the loss, Zhang and Gaoyuan won bronze medals for their efforts. Zhang’s is the first table tennis world championship medal awarded to an American in 62 years. The last was a bronze medal in men’s singles won by Dick Miles in 1959.
Kanak Jha, another player who made history, became the first American to reach the men’s singles quarter-finals at the world championships since 1959. Jha and Wang Manyu formed the other US-Chinese mixed doubles team. . They reached the round of 16, losing 3-2 to Indians Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra (15-17, 10-12, 12-10, 11-6, 11-7).
Harimoto and Hayata will face China’s Wang Chuqin and Sun Yingsha in the gold medal match, which was scheduled for Sunday night.
Zhang and Gaoyuan reached the medal round with a quarterfinal victory over French duo Emmanuel Lebesson and Yuan Jia Nan 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 11-7.
The Zhang-Gaoyuan and Jha-Manyu couples refer to the American-Chinese diplomatic initiative that began long before the birth of one of them. It all started at the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan.
Zhang, whose parents were both born in China, has come a long way with the sport since he started playing on a table in a laundry room. The 25-year-old has been a three-time Olympian, Pan American Games gold medalist and five-time United States national champion.