Beijing. China’s three-time Olympic table tennis champion Ma Lin risks missing out on this year’s world team championships unless he sorts out his personal life, according to national team coach Liu Guoliang.
The 30-year-old, who has been involved in a protracted divorce with actress Zhang Yi since October, was knocked out in Wednesday’s first round of the Chinese trials for May’s world team championships in Moscow.
“Ma looked like an old Taoist monk from Mount Wudang in the trials,” said Liu, referring to the monastery where the slow, contemplative martial art of Tai Chi was born. “He is so slow that he looks like he’s from a completely different era from his opponent.”
Ma claimed last year not to know he had been married to Zhang as, although they registered their union, they had not held a wedding banquet.
The world No. 3, who won the men’s singles and team gold medals at the Beijing Olympics to go with his doubles title from the 2004 Athens Games, had lost his courage and artistry, Liu said.
“Nobody can help Ma out of the troubles except himself,” Liu told Thursday’s Beijing Daily. “If he can overcome them, he will still be the king. Otherwise, he will be superseded.”
Ma could still earn a ticket to Russia in a later trial or as a coach’s pick.
“It is a hard time for him to face the difficulties and defeats. His biggest rival is himself,” Liu said.