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Singapore’s Tianwei Feng is a smashing success in table tennis

Singapore's Tianwei Feng reacts after defeating  Japan's Kasumi Ishikawwomen's bronze medal table tennis match 2012 Summer Olympics Wednesday Aug.

Singapore's Tianwei Feng reacts after defeating Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa in a women's bronze medal table tennis match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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Updated: August 1, 2012 5:40PM

LONDON – The stage at the center of the arena was lit up as if it were a high altar.

The rest of the place was dark except for colored lights swirling about the crowd. Music throbbed.

This could have been a heavyweight title fight if it weren’t for the fact it was table tennis. I will say this, though: If Singapore’s Tianwei Feng had bitten off the ear of Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa, a la Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, I wouldn’t have been overly surprised.

While many of you were obsessing over the Bears’ offensive line situation Wednesday, I was taking in the women’s Olympic bronze medal match. I think I fear women with paddles more.

Before the match began, an umpire wiped off the table so that it was just so. The athletes checked each other’s paddle, for what, I don’t know. Vasoline? Pine tar? Whatever, this was solemn stuff.

The women are crazy quick, and the ball’s sometimes a blur. It can go 75 m.p.h., and competitors often have only a quarter of a second to react. Ishikawa throws the ball high on serves, and when it hits the table, immediately jabs it with spin at her opponent. The old okey-doke. Seen it a million times.

You know what the best part of Olympic table tennis is? It’s that, even in medal matches, the competitors have to chase after the ball themselves, just like you have to do in your basement. The only way it could have been better is if they had to look under a couch for the ball.

There is no such thing as reserve in this sport. Whenever Feng hit a slam, she raised a fist and yelled. You can understand. Singapore hadn’t won an individual medal in 52 years.

The English invented table tennis in the Victorian era, but Asians now own it. The gold-medal match would feature two Chinese women. Of the final four men, two were from China, one was from Japan and the other from Hong Kong. Many of the fans in the stands were flag-waving Chinese who liked to yell out exhortations to their favorite players.

The superstar of the women’s game is world No. 1 Ning Ding, who lost in the all-China, gold-medal match to Li Xiaoxia.

But this day was for Feng, who won bronze for herself and her country, which hadn’t had owned an individual medal since the 1960 Rome Games.

“Just happiness comes to me so suddenly,’’ she said. “I can’t believe it’s true.’’

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