By Gregg Xenakes, Olympics Writer
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - China has captured all but four of the 24 available gold medals in table tennis since its debut at the Olympics in 1988 and is expected to be a major player again in London.
A total of 172 athletes -- 86 men and 86 women -- will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Singles matches in the sport are determined by a best-of-seven format, with the first player to 11 points and a margin of two over their competitor claiming each game.
Olympic competition has a total of four medal events: men's and women's singles, and men's and women's team play.
Perhaps in an effort to level the playing field for the Western Hemisphere, each nation is limited to just three men and women across all events and two athletes in each singles event.
China, which has claimed a total of 41 medals in 24 events dating back to 1988, has been so dominant that the format of the sport in the Olympics had to be modified in 2004, with competitors being divided into two groups so that the same country must play in their respective group.
There have been a total of 76 medals awarded since the sport was adopted just over two decades ago and all but 18 have been claimed by China and South Korea, the latter having reeled in 12 of a possible 28 bronze medals and three of the remaining four gold. The only other gold medal was awarded to Sweden and beyond that, no other nation has captured more than three total medals.
In fact, every medal in the event has been secured by a nation either in Europe or Asia and while the United States has fielded athletes in the competition in each of the previous six Olympics, Americans have yet to step to the podium for a single medal ceremony.
Not much is expected to change this summer, either, given that the top-ranked players on the men's and women's side all hail from China.
No. 1 men's player Zhang Jike, the reigning world champion who has a blade named after him, is favored to take the gold.
China's Ding Ning. also a reigning world champion, is the top-ranked women's player and the London favorite.
The United States is sending four athletes to London.
Ariel Hsing, who turns 17 in November, was the youngest woman in U.S. history to win the national table tennis championship two years ago. Hsing and Erica Wu are scheduled to compete in singles and team while Lily Zhang will also play in the team competition.
Timothy Wang is the lone player on the U.S. men's team and will play singles.
Competition in London begins July 28 with the women's singles medals to be decided Aug. 1 and the men's a day later. Team medals will be awarded Aug. 7 and 8.
07/13 20:03:57 ET