Red Star

Kong Linghui

The ping-pong prince

Kong-Linghui-w 2

Kong Linghui

Who is he?

Kong Linghui was born in the northeastern city of Harbin in 1975 and was talent-spotted by the country’s sports authorities for his potential as a ping pong player. At a time when European players were dominating the male game Kong was sent as a young man to Sweden to learn the European style of play. It was an unprecedented move for the table tennis authorities but it paid off – Kong came home in 1993 and two years later became the men’s world number one.

Topping the table

Kong won top honours at all three majors (the Olympics, the World Cup and the World Championships), earning his first Olympic gold in 1996. In 2000 at the Sydney Olympics he won both a gold in the singles and a silver in the doubles. Known for his Western shakehand grip (as opposed to the more typical penhold grip for Asian players) Kong was sometimes described as the most complete table tennis player of all time. When his playing career ended he became coach of the national women’s table tennis team.

Why is he in the news?

Last week it was widely reported that the Marina Bay Sands casino in Singapore had filed a lawsuit against Kong for failing to fully repay a loan of S$1 million ($723,147). Kong responded on his weibo account that he had not been gambling – a forbidden activity for Party officials such as himself – and that he had merely been visiting the casino with friends, who were betting for fun.

“After the media brought to light this case today I immediately called some friends and relatives who were there at that time asking them what’s happening and I learned someone has debt related to the dispute with the casino,” Kong claimed in the statement. “I immediately asked the person who owed money to make a clarification.”

His denials didn’t do him much good with the Chinese Table Tennis Association, which suspended his coaching duties at the end of May and ordered him to return to China for further investigation.

The State General Administration of Sports added that it was closely monitoring his situation and that it expressed a “deep apology for the adverse social impact of this matter”.

Jiangnan City Daily said this was not Kong’s first “violation of discipline” and that he had been shielded by his superiors in the past because of his success as a player and coach. The newspaper cited one incident in 2006 when Kong drove an unlicenced Porsche into a taxi in Beijing. There were no fatalities but Kong was identified as a drunk driver. However, the sports authorities kept him out of prison, banning him from driving for six months and slapping him with a modest Rmb1,800 ($264) fine.

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