Table Tennis in Olympics: Solid Guide about History, Qualifying, Medals & Ranking

Table Tennis in Olympics

Table tennis was introduced to Olympics in the 1988 games which was held at Seoul in Korea and since then has become an integral part of every Olympics. Below we have described everything you would like to know about this much-revered sport of table tennis in the history of Olympics and how it got there.

Why is Table Tennis an Olympics Sport?

Table tennis is recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for starters which is mandatory for a sport to be a part of the Olympics.

However, beyond that, it also fulfills the other important criteria laid out by the IOC.

According to the Olympic Charter, a sport must be played in at least 75 nations and 40 nations by men and women respectively, and table tennis’s main organisation body, International Table Tennis Federation currently has 226 countries as its part.

Also, as listed in that same Charter, there is no doubt the sport of table tennis adds to the “value and appeal” of the Olympics without compromising on its modern traditions.

With the kind of popularity table tennis enjoys thanks to the ease with which it can be played in terms of the required space, there is no surprise table tennis has remained an Olympics sport since it was added to the list in 1988.

In fact, it comes as a big surprise it didn’t become one long before it finally did.

History of Table Tennis in Olympics

After the ITTF was formed in 1926, they endeavoured to try and have table tennis as a demonstration sport at the 1936 Olympics but failed to be able to do so.

In turn, an attempt was made to hold table tennis as a sport in the 1940 Olympics but that edition of the games and the one which was to follow in 1944 were both cancelled because of the war.

And soon, for a variety of reasons, more often than not due to the lack of support from some of the table tennis federation, the sport continued to thrive outside of the Olympics.

It was only in 1984 in Los Angeles the organising committee asked the ITTF if it could be held as a demonstration sport. That did not go through but things moved quickly by 1985 for it to be included in the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Finally, table tennis became a part of the Olympics at the 1988 Seoul games.

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Table Tennis at Different Olympics

Since the 1988 Olympics where it was first played, table tennis has been a part of every edition of the games which have been held.

Between 1988 and 2004, the table tennis events included men’s and women’s singles and men’s and women’s doubles. This changed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where the men’s and women’s doubles were replaced by men’s and women’s team events.

Here’s how table tennis went at the different Olympics since the time it was first played.

Table Tennis at the 1988 Olympics

64 men’s and 48 women’s singles players were in action at the 1988 Olympics, while 32 men’s doubles and 15 women’s doubles teams also participated in the competition.

In both, the men’s and women’s singles the group stage preliminary round was followed by knockout matches for which 16 players apiece qualified. In the doubles, eight teams each from the men’s and women’s section of the draw made it to the quarterfinals.

Surprisingly, Waldner, despite winning all his seven league matches, crashed out in the quarterfinals to the eventual men’s singles silver medalist, Kim Ki-taik.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Yoo Nam-kyu (Korea)
  • Silver: Kim Ki-taik (Korea)
  • Bronze: Erik Lindh (Sweden)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Chen Jing (China)
  • Silver: Li Huifen (China)
  • Bronze: Jiao Zhimin (China)
Men’s Doubles
  • Gold: Chen Longcan/Wei Qingguang (China)
  • Silver: Ilija Lupulesku/Zoran Primorac (Yugoslavia)
  • Bronze: Yoo Nam-Kyu/Ahn Jae-Hyung (Korea)
Women’s Doubles
  • Gold: Yang Young-Ja/Hyun Jung-Hwa (Korea)
  • Silver: Jiao Zhimin/Chen Jing
  • Bronze: Jasna Fazlić/Gordana Perkučin (Yugoslavia)

Table Tennis at the 1992 Olympics

The format of the competition was changed with the men’s and women’s singles both having 64 players participating this time. Instead of having groups of eight players apiece, this edition of the Olympics saw the organisers divide the 64 players into 16 groups of four each, thereby reducing the number of matches from the previous occasion.

The top player from each group at the end of the round-robin stage, qualified for the round of 16, following which the matches were held on a knock-out basis.

The men’s and women’s doubles competitions had 30 and 31 teams respectively and it followed the singles route, with eight groups in each and the top team in each group making it to the quarterfinals.

There was a clear winner in each of the groups across all the events, i.e. one player or team won all the matches in every group. This time around, Waldner dropped just one game en route the men’s singles title but failed to make it to the second round of the men’s doubles competition.

This was also the only Olympics game where both losing semifinalists won the bronze medal.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Jan-Ove Waldner (Sweden)
  • Silver: Jean-Philippe Gatien (France)
  • Bronze: Ma Wenge (China)
  • Bronze: Kim Taek-Soo (Korea)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Deng Yaping (China)
  • Silver: Qiao Hong (China)
  • Bronze: Li Bun-Hui (North Korea)
  • Bronze: Hyun Jung-Hwa (South Korea)
Men’s Doubles
  • Gold: Lü Lin/Wang Tao (China)
  • Silver: Steffen Fetzner/Jörg Roßkopf (Germany)
  • Bronze: Kang Hee-Chan/Lee Chul-Seung (Korea)
  • Bronze: Kim Taek-Soo/Yoo Nam-Kyu (Korea)
Women’s Doubles
  • Gold: Deng Yaping/Qiao Hong (China)
  • Silver: Chen Zihe/Gao Jun (China)
  • Bronze: Li Bun-Hui/Yu Sun-Bok (North Korea)
  • Bronze: Hong Cha-Ok/Hyun Jung-Hwa (South Korea)

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Table Tennis at the 1996 Olympics

The format from the 1992 Olympics was used for table tennis at the 1996 games as well, with the 64 men’s and women’s singles featuring in a round-robin-cum-knockout tournament, while 47 men’s and women’s doubles teams in similar action.

Unlike the previous Olympics, there was only one bronze medal on offer with the losing semifinalists having to fight for that third spot.

In the group stage of the events, there were clear winners across the men’s singles and doubles and the women’s singles, but things got interesting in the women’s doubles group matches. In both, Group C and E, there was a tie for the top spot with three teams in each of those two groups winning two matches apiece.

Group C saw all the three teams also win and lose the same number of games, which meant it came down to the points difference and the team from Hong Kong made it through with a +31 point difference as opposed to the North Korean side which ended on a +30 point difference!

It was something similar in Group E with the Chinese Taipei team topping the group on account of a better point difference than their Hungarian counterparts by a mere two points.

Interestingly, both these teams lost in the quarterfinals.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Liu Guoliang (China)
  • Silver: Wang Tao (China)
  • Bronze: Jörg Roßkopf (Germany)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Deng Yaping (China)
  • Silver: Cheng Jin (Chinese Taipei)
  • Bronze: Qiao Hong (China)
Men’s Doubles
  • Gold: Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang (China)
  • Silver: Lü Lin/Wang Tao (China)
  • Bronze: Lee Chul-Seung/Yoo Nam-Kyu (Korea)
Women’s Doubles
  • Gold: Deng Yaping/Qiao Hong (China)
  • Silver: Liu Wei/Qiao Yunping (China)
  • Bronze: Park Hae-Jung/Ryu Ji-Hae (Korea)

Table Tennis at the 2000 Olympics

The format for all the four events changed at the 2000 Olympics with the seeded players getting a direct entry into the knockouts while the rest of the players needing to qualify through the round-robin stage.

16 men’s and women’s singles players, as a result of this change in format got a second round bye, and 16 more joined them in the round of 32 unlike the previous Olympics where there was directly a round of 16.

Similarly in the men’s and women’s doubles there was an extra knockout round, with the competition starting with the round of 16 too.

Waldner, who was the fifth seed in the competition got to the men’s singles final but lost to China’s Kong Linghui while top women’s seed Wang Nan won the gold in the singles. China won the gold and silver in both, the men’s and women’s doubles to make a clean sweep of all gold medals on offer.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Kong Linghui (China)
  • Silver: Jan-Ove Waldner (Sweden)
  • Bronze: Liu Guoliang (China)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Wang Nan (China)
  • Silver: Li Ju (China)
  • Bronze: Cheng Jing (Chinese Taipei)
Men’s Doubles
  • Gold: Wang Liqin/Yan Sen (China)
  • Silver: Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang (China)
  • Bronze: Patrick Chila/Jean-Philippe Gatien (France)
Women’s Doubles
  • Gold: Li Ju/Wang Nan (China)
  • Silver: Sun Jin/Yang Ying (China)
  • Bronze: Kim Moo-Kyo/Ryu Ji-Hae (South Korea)

Table Tennis at the 2004 Olympics

The 2000 Olympics was the last edition where the 38 mm diameter ball was used. In fact it was just after the previous Olympics ended, the ITTF introduced the 40 mm balls (later changed to 40+ balls) and the 2004 Olympics was the first such competition in which they used these new, bigger table tennis balls.

The 2004 Olympics were also the last one before the men’s and women’s doubles competitions in table tennis were discontinued.

The format of the competition was completed overhauled and the round-robin phase was scrapped.

All 64 singles players were involved in a straight knock-out. However, depending on the player ranking, 32 singles had to play in the first round, and the 16 winners from that then played against 16 players who had a bye into the second round followed by the winners of that round of matches playing against the 16 seeded players who had a bye into the third.

Similarly in the doubles, there were 16 teams who competed in round one, and the eight winners played eight other teams in the second round who had a bye. The winners of the second round matches played against the eight seeds who had a bye into the third round.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Ryu Seung-min (Korea)
  • Silver: Wang Hao (China)
  • Bronze: Wang Liqin (China)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Zhang Yining (China)
  • Silver: Kim Hyang-mi (North Korea)
  • Bronze: Kim Kyung-ah (South Korea)
Men’s Doubles
  • Gold: Chen Qi/Ma Lin (China)
  • Silver: Ko Lai Chak/Li Ching (Hong Kong)
  • Bronze: Michael Maze/Finn Tugwell (Denmark)
Women’s Doubles
  • Gold: Wang Nan/Zhang Yining (China)
  • Silver: Lee Eun-sil/Seok Eun-mi
  • Bronze: Guo Yue/Niu Jianfeng (Yugoslavia)

Table Tennis at the 2008 Olympics

The 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing, China and it comes as no surprise the host nation swept all the gold medals on offer. This included the men’s and women’s singles and the men’s and women’s team events, which had replaced the doubles competition.

The singles format was on the lines of the previous edition of the Olympics but this time around, 77 men’s and 78 women’s singles players participated in the competition. 26 of the men and 28 of the women had to play a preliminary round which was followed by the first, second, third and four round of matches, followed further by the quarterfinal, semifinal and final.

Players had byes to the first, second and third round depending on their seedings which were allocated before the tournament.

The team events saw 16 countries for both, the men’s and women’s competitions. Teams were divided into four groups of four teams each and they played each other in best of five singles and doubles matches.

The top-ranked team at the end of the league matches qualified for the semifinals, followed by the final but the losing semifinalists then also needed to play the second-placed teams in the groups for the bronze medal playoffs.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Ma Lin (China)
  • Silver: Wang Hao (China)
  • Bronze: Wang Liqin (China)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Zhang Yining (China)
  • Silver: Wang Nan (China)
  • Bronze: Guo Yue (China)
Men’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: Germany
  • Bronze: South Korea
Women’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: Singapore
  • Bronze: South Korea

Table Tennis at the 2012 Olympics

The format of the table tennis competition for the men’s and women’s singles did not change from the previous edition.

There were a few players involved in the preliminary round of matches, following which the winners joined the rest in the first round. The winners of the first round matches played those who had a second round bye while the top 16 seeds had a bye straight to the third round.

The team event, however, saw a change in the format. Instead of having a round-robin-cum-knockout, all matches were knockout with 16 teams participating in the first round. This was followed by the quarterfinal, semifinal and the final.

China made another clean sweeping, winning all four gold medals on offer along with two silvers as well. The Chinese women’s team did not lose a single match en route their title win.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Jhang Jike (China)
  • Silver: Wang Hao (China)
  • Bronze: Dimitrij Ovtcharov (Germany)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Li Xiaoxia (China)
  • Silver: Ding Ning (China)
  • Bronze: Feng Tianwei (Singapore)
Men’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: South Korea
  • Bronze: Germany
Women’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: Japan
  • Bronze: Singapore

Table Tennis at the 2016 Olympics

The format was no different from the 2012 Olympics with 70 men’s and women’s singles players participating in the competition along with 16 teams in the men’s and women’s team draw.

China’s domination in table tennis continued with all four gold medals going to them yet again along with the two singles silvers. Japan and Germany won the remaining two team event silvers.

Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
  • Gold: Ma Long (China)
  • Silver: Jhang Jike (China)
  • Bronze: Jun Mizutani (Japan)
Women’s Singles
  • Gold: Ding Ning (China)
  • Silver: Li Xiaoxia (China)
  • Bronze: Kim Song-i (North Korea)
Men’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: Japan
  • Bronze: Germany
Women’s Team
  • Gold: China
  • Silver: Germany
  • Bronze: Japan

Table Tennis at the 2020 Olympics

This was going to be the first ever Olympics games in which table tennis was going to have a fifth event, a mixed doubles, to go with the men’s and women’s singles and men’s and women’s team events.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. More information on the qualifiers for the table tennis events will be updated in the sections below.

China in Olympics Table Tennis

China has been the best performing table tennis country in the history of Olympics, and by some distance. To give a context, there have been 32 gold medals on offer since the first time Olympics had table tennis in 1988 till the 2016 games and China have won 28 of them.

Also, of the 100 medals on offer in total during the same time, they have clinched 53 of them despite the restriction of each country being represented by a maximum of two paddlers.

The next best table tennis team in Olympics is Korea with three golds with Sweden picking up the only other gold when Jan-Ove Waldner won the men’s singles title in the 1992 games.

Why do Critics Want Table Tennis Removed from the Olympics?

Well, some critics argue, table tennis a sport which enjoys eyeballs in just one country, China.

What they look to be forgetting is the dominance of one country cannot justify removal of a sport from the Olympics; domination by a country isn’t an attack on the universality of the sport and there is no doubting table tennis is a universal sport.

According to some estimates, table tennis has the second-highest participation in the world after football.

Some sports fans reckon all sports which don’t consider winning the gold medal as a bigger achievement than winning any other competition, shouldn’t be allowed to remain an Olympics sport.

Again, table tennis fulfills that ‘fan’ criteria too, given the greatest achievement in table tennis to win the singles gold, male or female, and based on that, a Grand Slam is also won. In Short, there is no warranted reason to expel table tennis from the range of Olympics sports.

Do Players Get Ranking Points at Olympics?

The short answer is yes, players earn ranking points at the Olympics depending on how far they reach in the competition. The singles gold medallists, for instance, earn 3000 points apiece while the runner-ups earn 2550 points each. Players also win points for every match they win at the team event, currently 250 points.

Rankings Points Earned by Players at Olympics Table Tennis

Round of ExitRankings Points Won
Gold Medal3000
Silver Medal2550
Bronze Medal1950
Fourth Place1800
Losing Quarterfinalists1500
Fourth Round Losers1200
Third Round Losers900
Second Round Losers600
First Round Losers450
Preliminary Losers300
Team Event Match Won250

Table Tennis Records at Olympics

There have been three players who have each won four table tennis gold medals at the Olympics; all three are from China, namely Wang Nan, Deng Yaping and Zhang Yining. However Wang is at the top of the medals count because of the extra silver medal he has won.

The best male table tennis player is Zhang Jike who has three golds and one silver medal to his tally, followed by Ma Lin and Ma Long, both of whom have three golds. Wang Hao, while winning two golds, also has three silver medals, which makes him highest medal winner among male table tennis players.

As mentioned earlier, only four gold medals have been won by non-Chinese players. These include Waldner’s men’s singles gold at the 1992 games, and gold medals for Yoo Nam-kyu and Ryu Seung-Min at the 1988 and 2004 men’s singles events respectively and one for Hyun Jung-hwa and Yang Young-ja in the women’s doubles at the 1988 Olympics.

Stan Boone

I am the editor of Racket Sports World. I love my tennis, pickleball and most of the other racket sports played around the world and started this blog as my way to help other racquet sports fans even as I learn, explore and improve by connecting with them. Tweet at

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