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After Wednesday’s finals, the United States leads the gold medal table with 11 golds, as China and Japan were at second and third spots with 10 and 6 golds respectively.
Tennis star Ding, who left the London Games with a silver medal four years ago amid tears, fell on her knees and sobbed into her hands after she sealed the final point against Li.
The two were matched set for set throughout, but Li faded in the final set losing at 11-7.
“I’m so excited, I can’t believe I did it. I don’t know how to explain my feeling, I feel that I became a lot more mature than four years ago. This is a very tough match, I think Li and I both did well,” said Ding.
“In the final set, I played much tougher than my opponent, I am really proud of myself,” added Ding.
The all-Chinese final reflected the country’s continued domination in the sport. World number one Liu Shiwen watched the final from the sidelines after failing to be picked for the singles event.
China took all six Olympic medals in the men’s and women’s singles event in 2008, prompting a rule change to only allow two players from each country compete. This, however, did not stop them from sweeping the gold and silver spots in London.
Earlier on the day, China’s Xiang Yanmei won the ninth gold for China in the weightlifting women’s 69kg category.
Lifter Xiang, winner at the World Championships in 2013 and 2015, failed in her third attempt in the snatch when she put the 118kg barbell above her head but suddenly the barbell fell awkwardly on her head and down her neck and dropped to the floor.
“I saw little sparks all of a sudden. I got hurt a little bit; I felt hurt when I knocked my head,” Xiang said.
Despite the hiccup, the 24-year-old Xiang still took the lead and kept the momentum to jerk 145kg for a winning total of 261kg.
“I didn’t think about it at all during the jerk, so it didn’t affect my performance,” she said.
Japan was the biggest winner on the fifth matchday in Rio, winning three golds to jump to the third place on the medals table.