LONDON — Li Xiaoxia stunned Ding Ning to win women's table tennis gold in a stormy, all-Chinese women's singles final which ended with the world number one in tears on Wednesday.
Li won 11-8, 14-12, 8-11, 11-6, 11-4 at the ExCeL Arena as Ding, the world champion and favourite, wept and argued when she was repeatedly cautioned by the referee over her serving.
"I didn't do very well today. I had two obstacles, not only from my opponent but from the judge," said the crestfallen star.
"Not only did she give me a yellow card but she also gave me a red. There's nothing I can do. She judged my serving. I was only doing my best.
"It's quite a pity because I lost, not only because of my tactics but also outside the arena."
Li, dubbed 'Miss Number Two', can now shed the moniker as she becomes China's seventh straight women's singles Olympic champion, extending a monopoly which goes back to the event's introduction to the Games in 1988.
"I'm very excited. This has been my dream since being a little girl -- I dreamed of being an Olympic champion," she said. "We are the same level but today I performed better than I expected."
Singapore's Feng Tianwei, who was born in China, beat 19-year-old Japanese player Kasumi Ishikawa to claim bronze.
Li had never beaten Ding until June, when she registered her first win over the world and Asian champion at the Beijing Open.
Ding ran into trouble for an illegal serve -- throwing the ball backwards instead of vertically, and less than the minimum 16cm (6.2 inches).
"I think the umpire was a little bit too strict to me. I asked the translator why and she said my serving was not right, it's not high enough," she said.
"For one or two years I've always served the ball like this, and she didn't even give me a warning before giving me a card, and also in this game I served like I have been from the first game (of the competition).
"Later I could only do forehand serving, she was too strict so I was too stressed. I had to stop serving (her usual serve) because as soon as I served she just penalised me."
International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) president Adam Sharara said Ding, 22, who is nicknamed "Big Baby" showed her inexperience in becoming embroiled in the serving row.
"She's young and world champion and has the experience to come back but maybe this is the first time she has confronted a strict umpire," he said.
"She needs to learn to come back and have another serve because you can lose a gold on the calls of an umpire. Experienced players will have an alternative serve."
China won every table tennis singles medal going at the Beijing Olympics, underlining a dominance described as "devastating" for the sport by Sharara.
The performance prompted a rule-change limiting each country to two men's and women's singles entrants, meaning China can no longer win all three medals in each event.
Since table tennis joined the Olympic programme in 1988, China have taken 21 of the 25 available golds, including all four at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
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