As punishment, four of the players were kicked off the national team and sent back to provincial clubs. The coaches spared Ma Lin, who is—not coincidentally—the world's best player, and Wang Hao, No. 3 in the world. (China didn't want to lose them in advance of the Athens Olympics this summer.) Team coach Cai Zhenhua says the excommunicated players will have "free time to calm down and reflect upon their actions"—and suggested they could one day be rehabilitated.
Like most Chinese athletes, the Ping-Pong squad must display a soldierly devotion to their sport. Lights-out is at 10:30 p.m. sharp, and minders are supposed to ensure that there's no bed hopping afterward. "Our players are not normal Chinese people," explains Cai. "They are like soldiers, who must maintain self-discipline in order to do well in competition." In Chinese Ping-Pong, there are no love matches.