The Sky is Crying

14028825315_7610634f17_bDid you notice that the sun seems to have lost its light and the sky is not as blue anymore?! . For sure it did not happen overnight; it is just that today you could clearly notice.  Day three of the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo and we went from bright spring-like sunshine to a rainy morning.

Could it be that the mighty Table Tennis god himself wanted to send a message to the international body of our sport on what should be its finest time, the day of the 2014  Annual General Meeting ?

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Actually this post comes to you from the meeting itself. I am in the back of the room listening to the only ITTF president I have ever served as a professional staff; Mr. Adham Sharara. This will be the last stop for him on a magnificent Presidential journey that lasted for fifteen years.

Many times I have wondered, like all of my colleagues, where he got the fuel from, the energy and the passion to lead us the way he did.  We have been treated with the best of   what he could offer; flexibility, trust and patience. We all made mistake along the way – but it was never met with the hammer, instead Adham gave you the chance to succeed with other projects.

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Certain things did however slow down the process  lately  . Maybe motivation – maybe political infighting finally took its toll on him?  Silence came into the picture as  a sign that something was not right  . Clearly an indication as good as anything that something would come up eventually. There was a time when everything was responded to, every single email loaded with arguments, explanation and at times new directions .

To meet up one on one with Adham, a very busy person, was always a rare treat. Many times the discussion could take several hours touching on things that really had no importance or relevance for the issues on hand.  Often it took the directions of sport politics and the whereabouts of colleagues and friends – before without you knowing it sliding into more important problem solving. I will miss those talks, the meetings with Adham. We will ,  all of us.  miss his intelligence – stubbornness, and his ability to close down the worrying path of anxiety. Some of us, like him triggered by a good solid disagreement will also miss his long world champion emails (to quote a good friend).

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It is true, in fact very true, that I clashed with Adham in some areas –general philosophy, tournament systems, ranking or what have you. In the end freedom of speech, perhaps my honest way of arguing did cost me in terms of loss of influence and the opportunity to hands on lead some of programmes that many believe are perfectly designed for developing our sport.   Of course 159 Eleven points posts over five years   did not help either – although I have to say that many of my articles in fact very much reflects all the good things initiated and approved by Adham .  I danced with the devil in that sense. It is seldom an advantage to be outspoken – engaged and quality minded in an organization like the ITTF. Sometimes better say nada and to swallow the pride.

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I have taken time to do this blog on my free time, evenings, nights and mornings. It has come from all corners of the world from  hotels, venues, airport and you name it.  The simple reasons for doing it relates back to my professional role driving ITTF Education and Training .  Not too much the formal way – waiving with certificates , approving this and that – but rather by working the minds of people to understand what the true opportunities are and what has to be done to explore them  .  I have taken the time to motivate the fans of the sport by giving them a few inside takes from the ITTF meeting rooms and I have tried hard to push coaches and supporters to take deep interest in ITTF programmes on offer .  That’s pretty much it –just an honest – straight shooting way to communicate that may have ruffled some feathers – but not more than that.  The Elevenpoints blog has been me with all my good and perhaps lesser good sides exposed.

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But, back to the rainy day in Tokyo and the announcement from Adham; “That this will be the last time I will lead this meeting as the president of the ITTF”. Of course  we know that Adham will continue to be present – not only in our memories but also as resource, mentor for the new ITTF President Mr Thomas Weikert once he takes office 1 September this year. This is the timeline presented for the transition – Adham will retire and hand over duties to Thomas , who then will get two +  years under his belt before the 2017 Presidential election. At the very same time, there is no doubt that the new President very quickly must come with a strong strategic plan bearing his signature  for this to work.  The ITTF, like any other organization , should allow for ideas to flow, in depth discussions to happen, for staff to be empowered and for implementation to happen.

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13559818394_9897e70f9e_bGood luck to Thomas – whom I met this morning at 0630, am in the streets of Tokyo. I was taking a slow morning run – Thomas a must faster one, but in the in the end we joined together for the homerun. What I always liked about Thomas is that he is not afraid of embracing the rule of engagement that used to be so present in our sport.   He has always carried the German team shirt with pride and passion. That may not happen anymore – political correctness rule over his new position.. Having said that – please remain the way you are – a true passionate fan of our sport and a competitor by heart.  

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14005708416_dc4a824498_bPerhaps the most emotional moment from today’s AGM action came when Adham formally “placed”  Mr. Koji Kimura – one of the best ITTF officials we ever had in the PAC – Presidents Advisory Council. Koji has always been Koji – fighting hard and honest for the things he believed was right from a development point of view. His presentations, often involving some sort of practical examples, were both funny and right to the point.    The short thank you speech he delivered from the podium today did not have any kind of bitterness either. We could all learn from Koiji’s outlook on life; It has been wonderful – a happy time to serve you all and to work for the development of table tennis he gracefully said

From all of us – Thank You Koji . To reach the 53 years of service that you have given to the sport I need another twenty – which will be difficult. We all owe you another one as well –Thank You  for letting us come to Tokyo and experience the 2014 ZEN-NOH World Table Tennis Championships. Without your passion and Adham’s vision we would never have been here.

Personally – and this is just a wild guess , I have a feeling that the departure of Koji Kimura from the ITTF Executive committee last year is one of the personal reasons that Adham mentioned in a short speech to close the meeting today . There are others of course – but I know that this was one of the many small arrows shot at one great ITTF Presidents heart.

No wonder that the light rain we experienced in the early Tokyo morning, suddenly, right at the very moment that Koji stepped down from the podium turned into more of a downpour than anything else. The sky was crying and so did I.

It is funny how you sometimes hit the same wave-length regardless if you are a fearless,  truth-seeking table tennis blogger or the mighty god of Table Tennis himself.  

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We Are Family

IMG_0813Much of the discussion raging in the political corridors here in Tokyo will this time be about the format of the future world championships. It is a true clash between performance and participation. Marketing –commercial values on one side screaming for better conditions and presentations,  and on the other side  the solidarity development aspects pushing for what perhaps is true spirit of our sport  ; solidarity and participation .

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It is of course a numbers game.  Free hospitality for more than 1000 people over  eight days is a bit of a toughie and then to add all the other requirements ,  the playing facilities needed , volunteers .stricter ITTF  directives  , we are putting any organizer through a tremendous test of patience and financial sustainability  .

Solutions are not easy to find. The much improved ITTF development work is doing what it is supposed to do – grow the sport from a participation point of view with the true meeting point being the world championships.  Arguments thrown from the marketing / media side are of course related to how to make the elephant dance and how to sell the world championships concept to sponsors and commercial partners.

Let’s see what happens . The latest news is that we will have some sort of cap for the future; Maybe 84 ?! , but more likely 96 teams, allowed to enter the team championships in 2016, with some adjustments of the hospitality rule connected.

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IMG_0814But here we are – action did start this morning and I am right now sitting in the Tokyo Gymnasium trying to overlook things.  In a moment of true passion I did offer to help out with the challenge to make the action in this hall also count for the media and our fans. The truth is that we have many teams here in the second, third division with tremendous potential for future growth.  I am also interested in those associations looking to make a comeback into the big stage – to play once again in the limelight, like India – like England – Italy or you name it.  My North American heritage (14 years of living) also triggers the interest to see what Canada and the USA can do this time.  Expectations are still low –but we need to add some spark for  something to happen on that continent .

The many young players that we have seen pass through some of our athletes development programmes are also a point of huge interest. Many of them still pushing for attention – but we know them well and must allow ourselves to enjoy their progress as a true passionate fan of our sport.  We are after all family – the ITTF family.

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Time for Another Splash in the Pool

ImageWhat a treat to visit Tokyo again.  This will be my fourth time  since 2009 .  The 2014 WTTC will be my eighteenth World championships since my first stumbling steps in the international courts of Table Tennis 1989 in Dortmund, Germany. The only two festivities that I missed since then were in Manchester 1997 and Doha 2004.

As the coach for the Danish National Team I worked the floor between Dortmund and Tianjin 1995 and then made a comeback as a young – but eager ITTF employee in Eindhoven 1998. My first assignment I remember very well. It was not really an easy one – I had to push the new 40 mm ball both internally (hosted a famous dinner with the ITTF Equipment committee  …;-) and externally with National Associations. I even have a vague memory of reaching all the way to the AGM podium with a speech of some sort promoting change and the need of thinking out of the box.

Well folks – here I am attending what very well could be my last World Table Tennis championship as an ITTF professional staff.  The thinking out of the box and the drive and motivation to see change is still with me. Over the years I hope I have stayed true to my qualities and vision to work for the development of our sport. I had my chances and also my moments – it has been a good time – a privileged time to do all this –to experience the wonderful world of international table tennis.   The wheels never stop turning – challenges come and challenges go – everything created from what I call the nature of the beast; The world political will.

Our jobs – as staff is to pump the tires as much as we can, always important to promote your own area of expertise as the most important thing there is – because if you happen to lose your portfolio – your role comes into question. We should also try to add doses of reality to mix of the better half of the politically generated ideas that always will and must appear to move our sport forward.  It is also here at the world championships when we meet our membership that we need to pin our ears to the ground and listen – not always talk.  That’s the trick not to be forgotten actually.  We need to stay in touch with the reality and make sure that our programmes do make sense.

Lately – I have feeling that we somehow have hit the one way road a little bit too often. We say and you do kind of thing.  Lots of good things are happening – don’t get me wrong and we are also lucky to have a group of staff in the ITTF working for the rights reasons.. But then again when the political waters get murky – it is not easy to find the right directions.  It just takes small things and we are swimming in circles , instead of making the healthy laps count .

The truth is that the reality is in front of our eyes – right here at the world championships. This is us – the players the coaches performing doing their very best to showcase the depth of our sport .  As a sport we can only grow stronger and better if players can play and coaches can coach.  So colleagues – friends and foes; Study and Learn . As far as I know  , 1+1 still equals  two .

 

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SPINNing it Good

ImageHi – Ho Silver.  Welcome to the Chinese Canadian Table Tennis Association’s home in Markham just east of Toronto.  Canadian Junior Open is upon us with matches from dawn to dusk in a venue that actually is pretty nice.  This time we play on eight competition courts in two connected venues.

By now I have lost track of how many junior events we have connected to the Global (soon to be the world) Junior Circuit. Is it thirty – is it forty?  The only thing I do know from seeing a few of these events lately is that we probably have too many.   The risk is always that we by not having enough international circulation of  players force each national association to organize expensive events for mostly national players.  It is true that we have eight countries here – but still ninety percent of the players are from Canada and the USA…

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Honestly how exciting is it to watch USA A play USA C in one final , just to have USA D compete with USA “whatever” on the court beside ?

This was the case yesterday for the team finals here in Markham.  The only team breaking the cycle of American dominance was the Canadian Cadet Boys, who fought well but , still came up short.

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I watched the junior boys’ action with some talented youngsters in the court. The top American combo of Kunal Chodri and Kanak JHA, both guys well known to the blogger by early appearances in the  ITTF Hopes Programme , finally won the JB team title against Allen WANG and Theodore THRAN three matches to one.  The overall quality of play as well as the lack of true competitive spirit in matches like this worries me – a lot!  In fact it can even be counter-productive for these talents to play too many matches without the  proper intensity – the nerve that makes you go the extra mile ,  that drives you towards winning.

The only player in the final courts yesterday trying a bit harder was not surprisingly thirteen year old Kanak JHA from Milpitas, CA.  With him, both the desire and intensity are present, providing him with the necessary  international compete level which can  support a dream  to do  something, anything outside North America.

On the other side – Kanak must, just like all the other young players in North America, learn to play with much more tactical sense and to find solutions in the service and return game rather than in the open pit.. Too much Hi – Ho – open game – nice shots –point here and point there combined with series of missed shot  will only make the Butterflies come flying .. and then you have risky business stamped on just about any match on the schedule.

Fixable things for sure. But only with hard work; head to hand – not the opposite way which is more along the lines ; Play First and Think second. 

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Team mate Kunal CHODRI on the other hand would need some of Kanak’s desire and intensity in order to make a push for the next level. Most of the time he can showcase good power – very strong opening shots with certain smartness (good service) attached to it.  However slower style of footwork forces inconsistency and all that quickly puts him down mentally.  What at times appears as effective, strong international level table tennis from a fifteen year old,  can in the next game completely disappear.  Having said that – it is way too early to make any calls when it comes to his long term career. There is a certain well hidden drive behind this player that we all should try to understand. Kunal has also gone through a tremendous growth spurt, something that always will cause problems in Table Tennis.  Having said that – it is time to start committing hard – even if the wind blows right in your face. Either you want it – or not ?!

The US Youth Olympic Games qualifier Kris AVVARI is also an interesting player – but still way too much a passenger on the international stage.  Maybe a devoted summer schedule with camps in China – Korea and finally the Youth Olympic games will propel this nice young kid to the next level. That was part of the agreement I made with him this morning at the breakfast table.

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ImageIf we look further down in the ages we can find a bunch of good to extremely good Hopes player. The other day I had the pleasure to enjoy the North American Hopes challenge in Mississauga and you know what maybe there some hope is for the Canadians after all. The final pairing of Alexander BU ( penholder !!) from Toronto and Edvard LY from Montreal are both very strong players.

The level of female youth and junior TT in North America is still strong. As good as Ariel HSING and especially my favorite Lily ZHANG were some six to seven years ago   - you can now find the likes of Crystal WANG and Amy WANG  entering the scene on basically the same level.

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Lots of talk about Table Tennis booming here in the Big Smoke ( Toronto). The newly open SPIN Bar/Club is a cool hit with the Torontonians  and in fact it has made Table Tennis interesting for a much wider audience. http://toronto.spingalactic.com/ The blogger almost fell of the dinner chair yesterday when the hard workers from the MY Table Tennis club in Mississauga relieved their table sales figures from last year ( 2013).. Listen to this – only in the Toronto area alone My Table Tennis sold more than 1000 tables with a full service – all installed in the basement package.

 

 

 

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Getting it Done

ImageThe wind was coming from the North this morning. Cold and brisk  it was , not at all uncommon  up here in the Great White North. It’s fun to be back in the country that graciously fed and cared about you for almost fourteen years and good to know that not much have changed .

So there I was jogging in the early morning hour outside my hotel. How refreshing was it not to meet Lisa LUNG from Belgium and her coach as they also came out, on a rest day, to just keep doing what they have done so far here in Mississauga – follow a routine and be the perfect pair of one talented young athlete and the hard working coach.

Yesterday evening, Lisa and her coach negotiated all the opponents in the Road to Nanjing 2014 series event to clinch a spot in the upcoming Youth Olympic Games. In my opinion the best female player won this competition.  Lisa does have, in her best moments ,  a certain toughness and drive that many of the other girls are missing.  She should do well in Nanjing and will for sure slowly but securely establish herself as a very competitive junior player in Europe and why not in the world.

The male qualifier from this competition ;  Andreas LEVENKO from Austria was more of a surprise, at least in my eyes.  We should credit Andreas for taking the chance when it came to him – in the final almost served on a silver plate by a very nervous and insecure Carl Ahlander Johansson from Sweden. . Ahlander – Johansson surely looked like a winner when he, after a weak start in the first two games took the following three and also the lead in the sixth game against a more and more frustrated Levenko.  This time the big key for the young Austrian was to maintain calm and composed.  He took his time out at 0-3 and slowly started to find the right balance mentally again.  Having said that it was almost shocking to see how passive and shaken the Swedish top junior became in the deciding seventh game in which he lost 2-11.

The closed North American qualification also produced two qualifiers for the Nanjing Games today. Anqi LUO from Canada showed no mercy with the other Canadian girls and can now start to prepare for the festivities in August.

The junior boys’ competition on the other hand had its fair share of dramatic twists and turns.  For a couple of rounds this morning and into what was to become a dramatic semi-final Allen WANG from New Jersey looked like the player to beat.  Allen was leading 3-1 in the semis against the outside Toronto area rather unknown Klement YEUNG but then like a strike from above lost all his confidence and also the match, with the narrowest of margins in the seventh game.

In the final however it was game over for YEUNG who succumbed to Krishnateja AVVARI from Milpitas, CA and the USA. Better known, short and sweet as  “Kris”  in the USA TT circles this young American is now the third athlete born in 1999 to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games. With him you are looking at a fine young talent with plenty of upsides from a technical point of view. What is missing is instead toughness and experience, attributes that now can be picked up over the summer months with Nanjing as the final goal.

 

 

 

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Action Packed day in Mississauga

ImageDay two in Mississauga, Toronto and Canada – on the road to Nanjing. Final stages of the Road to Nanjing 2014 open event with a decent group of internationals looking to secure a spot in the YOG. It is crunch time in that regards with the main draw set up to finish this evening local time.

Following the morning session at the My Table Tennis club with four quarterfinals played in straight order,  we now have a final four set up in both categories. Even if the overall quality from a top junior in the world perspective is not absolutely of highest caliber, the excitement and anticipation of success or failure rules is what makes the RTN series extra interesting. A bunch of unproven, nervous players combined with the winner takes all formula is of course the perfect recipe for entertainment in Table Tennis. 

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This morning I had a relaxed breakfast chat with the Swedish coach Tomas Von Scheele.  “It’s clearly an interesting concept and a good learning tool Thomas said.  People looking at this from then outside are having difficulties to understand the pressure and the anxiety involved in a qualification style of competition.    I believe that the players themselves have a failure first attitude coming into these events that may not serve them that well from a pure performance point of view. Most of the guys consider not qualifying as a huge disappointment and that is what is setting the mental agenda kind of thing said the Swedish coach.

Speaking of the Swedes.   I am pretty sure that they had the taxi parked outside the venue to go to the Pearson Airport this morning when Carl Ahlander Johansson in his third attempt to qualify was down 0-3 against Aliaksandr Khanin from Belarus.  Relief came in the shape of a good start in the fourth game and the match then turned completely for Johansson who just might be able to build momentum enough from this comeback to win the whole thing.  Johansson is now up against Martin Allegro from Belgium in his semi-final whilst Claus Nielsen from Denmark battles Andreas  Levenko from Austria in the top half of the draw.

In the junior girls’ category, from then look of it, Lisa Lung from Belgium is the favorite. She most certainly looked sharp and focused on winning yesterday when she breezed through the group stage without dropping one single game.

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One for the Road

IMG_0781[1]The Dry spell is over.  Time to write something .  The blogger is back on Canadian soil to oversee the Road to Nanjing event in Missisuagua , just west from Toronto. The winter was bad this time they say – and for the brown grass ,  the rain and the wind it all plays together in telling you ;  King Winter has not left the throne completely – not yet judging from the + 1 cold rain pouring down tonight .  

We are playing in My Table Tennis Club at Haynes Road.  Clearly a nice facility with around 600 members   . These members will come into play on 20 permanents tables and there are plans to make room for more

Table Tennis is growing here and across the city you will find several full time venues offering around the clock opportunities to play. For those still doubting –but listening..I say – Table Tennis in North America is on the rise and we should do more to help it accelerate.

First day of action at this the third out of six events offered in the 2014 Road to Nanjing series brought some surprises , Andreas LEVENKO from Austria put himself on top of the draw by bringing down the Swede Carl Ahlander JOHANSSON in the key matchup in group nr 1.  The hard-hitting Dane Claus Nielsen dropped one match in the group and that opened up for the young Belgian Martin  Allegro  to secure the top seeding position on the bottom half. Only six players remain in the hunt now with two quarters opening up day two of the action tomorrow morning at 12.

In the girls competition I really get the feeling that young Lisa LUNG from Belgium is going to steal this one. She looked excellent today and also fully focused. Four girls is in the race for the RTN spot.

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