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S. Korean table tennis chief eager to see how far teen phenomenon can go at Tokyo Olympics

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MUNGYEONG, South Korea, June 22 (Yonhap) — Ryu Seung-min, the men’s singles champion at the 2004 Athens Olympics, remains South Korea’s last gold ping pong medalist.

Now, as the head of the Korea Table Tennis Association (KTTA), Ryu can’t wait to see if the country’s young talents can match his feat at this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Ryu traveled to the southeastern city of Mungyeong this week to watch the Olympic players compete in a prep tournament. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event on Monday, Ryu said Shin Yu-bin, the youngest member of the women’s team at age 16, will particularly put up with it.

“She has nothing to lose,” Ryu said. “If she can hold her own this year, she will grow by leaps and bounds by the time the 2024 Olympics take place in Paris.”

With the men’s team, Jang Woo-jin will also participate in his first Olympic Games. But the 25-year-old should be ready to handle the Olympic cauldron, Ryu noted.

“He already has a lot of experience in the big game and he has the mental strength to overcome the pressures of the Olympics,” Ryu said. “I was pretty nervous during my first Olympics in Sydney in 2000. That’s how it should be. But now we have team events. Woo-jin and Yu-bin can lean on their older teammates.”

South Korea will have to overcome two dominant powers, China and Japan, to reach the podium. But Ryu sounded confident the country might surprise a few people in Tokyo.

“Japan has some great female players, but they probably don’t have a lot of information about Shin Yu-bin,” Ryu said. “Nobody can predict how the women’s team event will go. It will come down to a few shots here and there. In the men’s team event and mixed doubles, I think we can handle Japan.”

Asked about specific medal predictions, Ryu said: “I see our men’s team and mixed doubles team at least reach the final. I think our women’s team should be good for the semi-finals.”

He wasn’t too optimistic about the singles, saying: “It all depends on how players feel on the day of their competition. You could win gold, or you could struggle in the first round.”

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