Competition begins Saturday

Updated: August 13, 2004, 9:17 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- American Gao Jun faces a possible matchup with Japanese teenage prodigy Ai Fukuhara in the Olympic table tennis competition according to the draw announced Thursday.

Gao, seeded 10th in women's singles, represents the United States' best hope for a first medal in table tennis. She will receive a bye until the third round, where she could face Fukuhara, who will get a bye until the second round.

Fukuhara was 3 years old in 1992, when Gao won a silver medal for China in women's doubles.

The Olympic table tennis competition begins Saturday. There are 64 competitors in both the men's and women's singles events. The bottom 32 seeds will play first-round matches, with the winners advancing to meet seeds 17-32 in the second round. The top 16 seeds receive byes until the third round.

If Gao wins her third-round match, she would likely play fourth-seeded Kim Kyung-ah of South Korea in the round of 16.

The rest of the American singles players found out their first-round opponents Thursday. In the women's bracket, Jasna Reed will play Renata Strbikova of the Czech Republic, and Tawny Banh will face Yoon Ji-hye of South Korea. In men's singles, American Ilija Lupulesku will face Juan Papic of Chile. Khoa Nguyen will meet William Henzell of Australia.

In men's doubles, Lupulesku and Mark Hazinski will play Monday Merotohun and Segun Toriola of Nigeria. In women's doubles, Reed and Whitney Ping will face Tan Paey Fern and Zhang Xueling of Singapore. Gao and Banh will play the winner of a match between Chile's Berta Rodriguez and Maria Paulina Vega and Venezuela's Luisana Perez and Fabiola Ramos.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press