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Sports

German Table Tennis Hero Gets Pop Star Welcome at Olympics

Although the world's gaze is typically drawn to the major events during the Olympics, at the Beijing Games unprecedented attention will be paid to table tennis, and to Timo Boll -- the bearer of Germany's medal hopes.

Timo Boll playing table tennis

Timo Boll is Europe's highest ranked table tennis player

Boll was the recipient of a pop star welcome upon his arrival to China on Thursday, Aug. 7, for the Beijing Olympics, despite the fact the German is aiming to steal medals from the hosts in their number one sport of table tennis.

The unofficial welcoming committee was so enthusiastic at the airport terminal that Boll required a police escort as he swiftly found himself surrounded by a herd of fans, autograph-hunters and television crews.

"You don't really see these scenes with me in Germany, but that's normal in China," he said, as he slowly made his way through the airport.

"Table tennis is very popular here," he added. "And I am quite popular because I am one of the main rivals to the Chinese. I hope there won't be too much going on over the next days so that I can concentrate on my events."

As part of the pre-Games build-up, Boll had been visited in Germany by several Chinese journalists and has strived to keep his flock of fans happy and informed via several Internet blogs and the Chinese sports paper Titan.

Medal within reach

Chinese table tennis star Ma Lin

World number two Ma Lin stands in Boll's way of a medal

The two-time European champion and former world No. 1 will be competing in his third Olympics. He has high hopes for a team medal before challenging the mighty Chinese in the men's singles.

"A medal in the team event is realistic," he said. "And that would make me more confident for the singles. I have trained well. Now I must only keep my nerves under control."

Boll said he was looking forward to the electric Olympic atmosphere during the Games, which, for him, will begin as he partakes in the parade of nations at Friday's opening ceremony.

"I am really looking forward to the opening ceremony because I wasn't part of it the last two times," said Boll.

Boll's name was mentioned as a possible German flag-bearer, but he is more than happy that basketball star Dirk Nowitzki was picked.

"I am a Dirk Nowitzki fan, the decision is great," said Boll.

Despite the general hype that typically accompanies the lead-up to an Olympics, Boll said he is maintaining his focus and is waiting in eager anticipation for the commencement of his own event.

"Lots will be going on at the table tennis," he said. "You could see here at the airport that the Chinese are sports mad."

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