Could it be that we in the year 2014 are seeing the Table Tennis version of the “Summer of Sam ” developing right under our noses?
Believers in a better future for USA Table Tennis are at least lining up in appreciation of a true , hard-nosed , excellence driven table tennis summer set up for the leading US juniors, fuelled by a combination of individual desire and investments to top up the USATT financial input made available for the junior national teams and the YOG candidates specifically.
If you happen to have the finger on the pulse of USA Table Tennis , you know that it is beating with increased intensity and eagerness these days. Lots of young promising players are on the rise and sustainable success could very well be around the corner, especially could the USATT somehow shift gears, build on the collective interest for the sport and drive forward in a more organized fashion the coming years. Frequent readers of this blog also know my opinion that the ITTF or for that matter the TMS also should add some fuel to the fire by getting involved – but that is perhaps more wishful thinking..? Or – perhaps not Mr. Weikert?
Anyway, leading individual efforts and huge private investments set aside for a moment, the more interesting part in this story actually involves the increasing interest from many of the US top prospects to compete and train internationally during the school break – JUNE to AUGUST.
So far we have seen strong US juniors and leading cadet players performing sensationally well in the CTTA/ ITTF Road to Nanjing training camp held in Shanghai in the month of June ,had organized training activities set up in cooperation with Tamasu/Butterfly for selected athletes at the JTTA national training center in Tokyo , observed strong US presence (and success ..) at the Korean Junior Open, followed this week by a much appreciated training camp with a fine KJTTA selection of athletes in Daejeon Korea..
Initiated reports from the now ongoing camp, planned for eight days, are at least so far extremely positive with full praise going to the always friendly and supportive Korean Junior Table Tennis Associations for logistics and sparring.
For the best and most ambitious athletes, those brave enough to spell out some kind of professional future in Table Tennis , with access to all the planned activities , US Open and North American events included , we are talking roughly two full month of international training and competition – in ASIA , mind you ! . Hard to beat as such and the potential outcome can be HUGE, should the mental and the physical side of the athlete-s hold fort.
In fact the rising interest from US hopefuls and some of the more active training centers in the country , to explore the wonderful world of international TT, has in itself caused some havoc in and around the much regulated NIKON Hong Kong Junior Open , coming up in one weeks’ time. No less than thirteen young US players are currently among the 160 athletes granted access to the prestigious event and from the rumor mill we can pick up that more US players indeed are eager to compete – but for the moment put on the waiting list by the organizers.
Headache for the USATT and in extended form also for the ITTF system? Yes, perhaps from a pure administration point of view, but the overall dynamics are of course overwhelmingly positive. It is true that all of this might be tied to internal (fierce) competition in the US with in many cases parents being as much involved as the athletes themselves which is completely natural in a sport system built on self-made success first and foremost.
Yet – the trick for the future and much needed improvements for the sport itself in the United States is to be found exactly by solving and riding these dynamics.
Right now we have an open road to improving the national competition model – and yes some of the old foxes of US Table Tennis are all on the right track claiming sharper and much more competitive series of national events ( USA Pro Tour ?) as one important piece of the puzzle . The dream scenario of course involves an individual tour to be tied up with a North American Pro League open for clubs and training centers. Other improvements should also involve a step by step re-shaping of the current High performance model to rise above mediocrity and short term solution to also incorporate new ideas to drive what very well could be a fine future for Table Tennis in the USA.
So far much of the self-drummed USATT media focus this summer , has rightly so , centered around the USA representatives for the YOG 2014 ; Lily ZHANG the nr one US Hope in Nanjing and the still young, but increasingly interesting qualifier Kris AVVARI and their whereabouts ( stormy coaching conflict included in that statement ..) . Lily, will no doubt be one of the players to watch in Nanjing. Her overall game is probably good enough to challenge for a medal, still hard work needs to prevail for the physical and mental parts also to fit perfectly come games time. To curb and control the rising expectations from back home is probably going to be the key to success for the US leading female player.
For Kris, on the other side, the goals are of much more modest character. The experience from a long and draining training camp in China – from the hard learning in Korea and Hong Kong should hopefully help this young talent to embark on the road to becoming a more complete athlete, if so happens in fact not a bad victory for a player that for sure can play a huge role for the USA Junior Boys team destined for success at the world junior level.. That is if good old “Uncle Sam “ somehow get his wishes right – like he did in the summer of 2014 !