Table tennis veteran in semi-final loss

Swedish table-tennis veteran Jörgen Persson met his match in China's world number one Wang Hao in the men's table tennis semi-finals on Saturday. The host nation is guaranteed the gold after Wang Hao beat Persson 4-1.

Table tennis veteran in semi-final loss

Wang overcame a courageous Persson, who at 42 has played in all six Olympics since table tennis was included, and was the last man standing against the Chinese Wall, for a 11-9, 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9 victory.

Wang was in tears after the match, hugging his coach, and relieved at having the chance to win his first gold in the event and avenge his shock upset in the final in Athens four years ago.

“We lost the men’s singles title four years ago, and to have regained it in 2008, we are very excited. Table tennis is our national sport. We have shown this to the crowd today,” said head coach Liu Guoliang.

Wang, 24, faces a showdown for gold with world number two Ma Lin after he survived a thriller against team mate Wang Liqin in their semi-final. Ma won the first three sets before Wang Liqin came storming back to win the next two, and he held off a ferocious charge from his team mate in the sixth game to eventually win 11-5, 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, 3-11, 11-8.

Guoliang hailed Hao’s win but paid homage to the Swede, describing him as one of the sport’s greatest players.

The loss was a huge disappointment for Persson, playing at probably his last Olympics, and still hunting for his first Olympic medal.

Persson, the 1991 world champion, who is unseeded here, must now steel himself for a showdown with world number four and three-time world champion Wang Liqin for bronze.

“It’s a hard (Chinese) wall to break, but it’s possible,” Persson said.

“Unfortunately I lost two close sets today and I had been winning a lot (of close sets) during the tournament. But today he was the stronger in the end.”

The Swedish champion has powered on in Beijing while Europe’s biggest, and younger, stars have fallen early from this tournament.

Wang edged out Persson in the first two sets, before the Swede nudged ahead in the third – Wang apparently rattled by an umpiring decision on whether the ball hit the table surface or edge during a point.

But Wang steadied in the fourth, winning some lengthy and spectacular rallies between the pair. Persson hung on in the fifth, levelling at 9-9, bringing roars from the Swedish supporters, before Wang edged him out.

For members


The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations

Stockholm Olympic Stadium defied those who said Sweden wasn't advanced enough to host the Olympic Games in 1912, and has survived to become the world's oldest Olympic stadium actively in use.

The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations
Stockholm's Olympic Stadium as it used to look. Photo: Bertil Norberg/TT

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Taking inspiration from the medieval city wall of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, Swedish architect and athlete Torben Grut designed a stadium for the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm that would stand as a fortress of athleticism.

His success was both immediate and enduring, and the now-historic stadium has lived up to its impressive façade for more than a century, hosting countless sporting and cultural events, witnessing more than 80 athletic world records, surviving a bombing, and simply reminding the world of its important place in Olympic history.

Initially, however, the outlook for both the stadium and the Stockholm Olympics – the fifth modern Olympic games – was far from promising. As historian Therese Nordlund Edvinsson wrote in a 2014 article in The International Journal of the History of Sport, despite Sweden's “modest ambitions” for the games, “critics argued that the country was too undeveloped to arrange a major sport event”.


Djurgården versus AIK in 1915 at Stockholm Stadium. Photo: TT

The original plan for the stadium was an accordingly modest – and temporary – whitewashed wooden structure. The decision to make it permanent was likely a relief to Grut, whose other designs included Solliden Palace, the summer residence of the Swedish royal family on the island of Öland. Though still relatively small, with an original seating capacity of around 20,000, the completed stadium became a model for subsequent Olympic stadiums. Likewise, and in defiance of the critics, the Stockholm Olympic Games were considered a great success.  

In a 2012 article entitled, “Stockholm 1912 set the gold standard for the modern Olympics,” in the British newspaper The Guardian, sports journalist Frank Keating wrote, “Stockholm's 1912 Games are still considered standard-setting for Olympic decades to come. Women's competition was allowed for swimming and diving, while men's boxing was banned: and on the track photo-finish electronic-timing was introduced as a back-up to the hand-held judges' stopwatch.” It was also, he explained, “the last Olympics where any individual could just turn up and hope to enter a competition”.


One of the numerous concerts organized at the Stockholm Stadium. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Over the years, the appearance of Stockholm Olympic Stadium has changed little, and the seating capacity has even been reduced. In 2011 and 2012, the stadium underwent its only major renovation in preparation for its centenary. Nonetheless, it has been an incredibly adaptable venue, serving for many years as home to Swedish football team Djurgårdens IF, and accommodating a wide variety of sporting and cultural events – from ice hockey to American football and from Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to Swedish DJ Avicii. It is also where the Stockholm Marathon ends each year.

The stadium has also maintained a long and at times somewhat chequered connection to the Olympic Games. In 1956, for instance, the equestrian events of the Summer Olympics taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were hosted some 15,000 kilometres away in Stockholm Olympic Stadium due to animal quarantine restrictions in Australia. And in August 1997, as Stockholm vied to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, the stadium was one of several sites in Sweden bombed or set alight by Swedish far-right extremists opposed to Sweden hosting the games.

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Although modern stadiums designed or used for the Summer Olympics now typically seat three to four times more people than Stockholm Olympic Stadium did in 1912, the historic venue still has a chance of returning to its Olympic origins. If Stockholm-Åre is selected to host the Winter Olympics in 2026, the snowboarding competitions are slated to take place in the landmark stadium, neatly tying together 114 years of Olympic history.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.