Lily Zhang

Lily Zhang
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Lily Zhang makes second straight U.S. Olympic table tennis team

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MARKHAM, Ontario (AP) — Lily Zhang earned her second straight Olympic table tennis spot Friday, beating countrywoman Jiaqi Zheng 11-3, 11-4, 11-5, 11-9 in the North American Olympic trials.

“When the last point was over, it was a sense of disbelief and happiness all at the same time,” Zhang said. “It feels so amazing to go back to the Olympics to represent my country a second time. I am so humbled and happy.”

The top-ranked player in the field, the 19-year-old Zhang, from Palo Alto, Calif., will join Yue “Jennifer” Wu of Fort Lee, N.J., as the two U.S. singles players in Brazil. Wu had qualified by winning the Pan American Games last summer.

“The last time around, I had just turned 16, and I was kind of overwhelmed by the whole thing,” Zhang said. “This time around, I am much more prepared and know what to expect. I have a lot more experience and maturity.”

The third spot on the U.S women’s team for the team competition will be decided on the weekend at the qualification tournament.

Zhang opened the tournament with a 4-0 win over Yi Lu of Canada. In the semifinals, Zhang held off a tough challenge from 14-year-old Crystal Wang of Bellevue, Wash., 4-2. Wang had rallied by winning the last two games to beat Chen Wang of New York 4-2 in the first round. Wang was a 2008 Olympian.

Zheng, the 2015 U.S. champion, is from Milpitas, Calif.

The U.S. didn’t place a player in the men’s final.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

First member of 2016 U.S. Olympic team should come from Pan American Games

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The first athlete to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team will likely qualify from the Toronto Pan American Games, a quadrennial multi-sport competition whose Opening Ceremony is Friday.

Two sports at the Pan Am Games have direct qualification to the Rio Olympics for individual athletes — modern pentathlon and table tennis.

The first Pan Am event with individual Rio Olympic spots on the line is the women’s modern pentathlon July 18. The U.S. athletes entered are two-time Olympian Margaux Isaksen and Sammy Achterberg.

The three highest finishers will qualify for the Rio Olympics with a maximum of one Olympic qualifier per nation.

Isaksen is the defending Pan Am champion who finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics. She’s ranked No. 9 in the world and finished 22nd at the World Championships in June, behind three other athletes in the Pan Am provisional field. However, one of those three, and the only one ranked higher than Isaksen, has already qualified for the Rio Olympics.

The men’s modern pentathlon is July 19. U.S. athletes entered are 2012 Olympian Dennis Bowsher and Nathan Schrimsher.

In 2011, Bowsher finished fourth overall at Pan Ams.

Bowsher went on to finish 32nd in the 2012 Olympic modern pentathlon. The last U.S. man to earn an Olympic modern pentathlon medal was in 1960.

Schrimsher is ranked No. 59 in the world. Bowsher is No. 65. Guatemala, Mexico, Chile and Cuba have higher-ranked athletes in the Pan Am Games provisional field, and Argentina has an athlete ranked No. 62. So Olympic qualification for an American man is no sure thing.

In table tennis, the Pan American Games men’s and women’s individual champions, crowned July 25, qualify for the Rio Olympics.

The top ranked U.S. table tennis player at the Pan Am Games is 2012 Olympian Lily Zhang, who is the top ranked woman in the Pan Am field at No. 94 in the world. There are no U.S. men ranked in the top 300 in the world.

Zhang shared bronze at the 2011 Pan Am Games as a 15-year-old. The defending champion is unrelated Canadian Mo Zhang.

In all, the U.S. Olympic team included more than 500 athletes in 2012, so this is just the start of the roster building.

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*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the men’s modern pentathlon was July 18 and the women’s was July 19.

London Olympian wins historic bronze at Youth Olympics (video)

Lily Zhang
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Lily Zhang couldn’t help the U.S. to its first Olympic table tennis medal in London two years ago. But the 18-year-old came through in Nanjing on Wednesday, becoming the first American to win a table tennis medal at the Youth Olympics.

She won bronze in women’s singles, losing the first game to Japan’s Miyu Kato but coming back to take the match 4-2. The dominant Chinese claimed both women’s and men’s golds.

“I’m floating,” Zhang told TeamUSA.org after her victory.

Zhang is the first American to compete in the Olympics and then compete in the Youth Olympics.

Zhang, who speaks Chinese and is set to start a college career at California, also won her singles opener in the mixed team event Wednesday. The U.S. dropped the group-stage match to Chinese Taipei 2-1, though. The group stage continues Thursday.

The Youth Olympics continue with coverage on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday and Thursday.

Youth Olympics broadcast schedule