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The world's most dominant table tennis nation finally takes a loss

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For only the second time since 1992, a country besides China has claimed gold in an Olympic table tennis event. 

Japan's Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito interrupted China’s decades-long run of dominance in the sport by winning Monday night's mixed-doubles final. The Japanese pair rallied from two sets down to secure a tight 4-3 victory over China's Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.

Before that surprise loss, China had been more dominant in table tennis than even the U.S. in basketball, Russia in weightlifting or South Korea in archery. The Chinese had won 28 of 32 table tennis gold medals awarded since the sport's 1988 entry into the Olympics.

The men's singles gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games is the only one from the previous six Olympics that eluded China. South Korea's Ryu Seung-min claimed a surprise gold, relegating China to silver and bronze. 

At the 2008 Olympics, China swept all six medals awarded in men’s and women’s singles table tennis. That inspired the Olympics to limit each country to sending only two male and female competitors instead of three, so China settled for sweeping gold and silver in 2012 and 2016.

Japan's Jun Mizutani (R) and Mima Ito (2L) celebrate beating China's Xu Xin (L) and Liu Shiwen (TOP R) in their mixed doubles table tennis final match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Japan's Jun Mizutani (R) and Mima Ito (2L) celebrate beating China's Xu Xin (L) and Liu Shiwen (TOP R) in their mixed doubles table tennis final match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

While the Chinese mixed-doubles team of Xin and Shiwen had only dropped one set in the first three rounds of Olympic competition, the Japanese duo of Mizutani and Ito was expected to provide stiff competition. Mizutani won bronze in men's singles in Rio and over the past few years, Ito has emerged as China’s biggest threat in the female ranks.

China looked to be in complete control in Monday night's gold medal match when Xin and Shiwen cruised through the first two games. Jun and Mima responded by taking the next three games by narrow margins, but Xin and Shiwen won the next game 11-6 to tie the match anew. 

In the decisive final seventh game, the Japanese duo jumped out to an 8-0 lead. Xin and Shiwen rallied to pull within 10-6, but Jun and Mima closed out the match on the next point and hugged in celebration. 

Is this the end of Chinese table tennis domination? Don't count on it. The four highest-ranked men's singles players in the world are Chinese, as are six of the top seven women. 

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