BEIJING, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) - China's table tennis legend Liu Guoliang announces his return to the sport's association here on Thursday, 15 months after the all-conquering coach stepped down.
China's Xu Xin, Zhang Jike, coach Liu Guoliang, and Ma Long hold the national Chinese flag as they celebrate winning the men's team gold medal table tennis match against Japan at the Riocentro venue during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 17, 2016. (Photo: VCG)
Liu, however, was not coming back as head coach of the Chinese national team, but as the chairman-to-be of the Chinese table tennis association (CTTA), leading the preparatory team for the election committee of the CTTA for the moment.
"My priority will definitely be the preparations for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, as well as the authority's management restructuring to improve training and efficiency in the Olympic preparations," said Liu.
Before Liu's return, the reigning CTTA chairman Cai Zhenhua, who is often credited with bringing Chinese table tennis into the limelight through the 1980s, was moved from post of deputy director of China's State General Administration of Sport.
The 42-year-old Liu, who won the singles and doubles gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, took a job as the CTTA vice-chairman in June, 2017, four years after he was appointed as the head coach.
With Liu's step down, the men's and women's national teams would be managed separately in the future, said a statement of China's table tennis authority, citing the saying of "seeking a better preparation for the 2020 Olympics."
The move, however, seemed more like a retirement, considering there were already 18 inactive vice chairmen.
Liu's three top charges, Ma Long, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin boycotted their China Open rounds in Chengdu, Southwest China in June, 2017 when Liu was removed from the coaching post.
All the three paddlers later apologized and each saw a 20,000 U.S. dollars fine for breaching the International Table Tennis Federation rules for their withdrawal.
Liu was appointed to coach the national men's team at the age of 27 in 2003 and then the position was passed to Qin Zhijian in April, 2017.
Under his reign, China, having won 28 out of 32 gold medals awarded since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988, extended their dominance for a decade by taking all 12 golds on offer across the last three Olympics.