China’s triple Olympic table tennis champion Ma Lin has been urged by his coach to bring a quick end to a five-year marriage the world number three claims not to have known he was party to.
The clandestine marriage was first exposed in the Chinese media last October when Ma was reported to have initiated divorce proceedings against little-known television actress Zhang Yi. The 29-year-old Beijing Olympic singles champion said then that he did not know he had been married despite undergoing a legal registration with Zhang in 2004.
“I thought without a wedding banquet, the registration alone did not mean a formal marriage,” he told Chinese media.
China's head coach Liu Guoliang said on Tuesday that unless Ma brought the divorce case to an end soon, his future in table tennis would be in danger. “I gave him a deadline,” Liu told Beijing Daily. “His career will be destroyed if he could not sort it out before our next training camp in April.”
Ma, who also won team gold at the Beijing Games as well as the men's doubles title in Athens in 2004, was knocked out in the first round of the ITTF Pro Tour Finals in Macau last week. “With a domestic problem, even the greatest athlete like Tiger Woods had no other choice but taking an indefinite break from playing,” Liu added. “I don't want to see Ma like that.”
This is not the first time that China's conservative table tennis officials have become involved in Ma's love life. In 2004, fellow player Bai Yang was exiled from the national team for allegedly being Ma's girlfriend — a few months before Ma secretly married Zhang.