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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Goodbye You Beautiful

Lausanne 262In its very best moments , when the fog lifts from Lake Geneva, the city of Lausanne comes up as pretty neat place, clearly a feast for your eyes. Beautiful like the best picture you can imagine.  Clean I guess, safe for sure, and overall not a bad place to live. You could argue of course that living here is all about adjusting to the short end of the stick. Shops close early – Restaurants take a day off when they feel like it – and I guess for a lack of a better description; the happenings are not raining down every day of the week.

However – all that is more of an initiated guess as I have never lived here. Thought about it from time to time during my career with the ITTF, but I guess that spending four to five days at the time was the perfect scenario. It gave you some downtime, important work- time and a breather of beauty strong enough to make you eager to return.

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Lausanne 275It was in Lausanne that the ITTF under the leadership of President Adham Sharara started to evolve – to grow – to drive forward. We positioned staff here and settled down close to the ever so important Olympic movement.  Not exactly sure when we bought our castle at Chemin de la Roche nr 11 in Rennens,  but I am probably not far off guessing some eleven years ago.   

In the beginning we centralized resources, added people   and made this place a meeting point for all our staff and officials. I have been here at least fifteen times over the years for meetings within my field of expertise – connecting with the Olympic Solidarity of simply meeting up with colleagues.

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Lausanne 270I have to admit that I always liked to come to our house – our castle.   It didn’t take long before we also had a museum set up on the ground floor – a process that also brought in the caretaker and museum curator Chuck Hoey to the mix of people staying in Lausanne.

The building itself is beautiful – bought relatively cheap – renovated from the ground up and it is really something.  It has sleeping arrangements for at least four to five people and plenty of office and meeting space – and listen to this  ; we also have our own park on the premises.

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Like Raul Calin said one time ;   Lausanne  is the perfect place for work.  Like he cared for nothing for else,  Raul could slice the nights away – break them down and chew them up like no other colleague of mine.

No disturbances of note meant that you quietly and easily just paced yourself through the night until the sun came   up.  Late night or for lunch the Restaurant Florissant, just a stone throw away, always treated you well.  The world class pizzas and the excellent fast pace service never made you consider other options really.

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Lausanne 272But all this , the memories ,  suddenly appears like they are  from the past. When I visited Lausanne last week for some meetings it was almost deserted land. Strange feeling.  Things have changed. Gone is my senior Jordi Serra – off to new adventures and left is only two regular staff to work for the ITTF. Chuck was still there – but his museum not. Instead we had contractors on the ground floor in preparation for a new tenant to move in.

All Chucks stuff – a lifetime of work and passion is   now packed in boxes to be sent to a new location – Shanghai they say.   I thought “if we ever had an ITTF soul “ it was clearly not there anymore.  Gone with the wind most likely drifting far east – perhaps to Singapore?

Let’s hope though that “our soul” will find a home somewhere – a peaceful place to put down it roots and rest again. Maybe – just maybe this is more important than we may think.  

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New Surroundings

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The new playing hall now avaliable for the organizers of the Safir International . We are missing the red flooring – but otherwise a first class addition to a fine event. One of the original tournaments included in the ITTF Junior Circuit back in 2003.

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Original Four

By now it is one fine ITTF GJP tradition to pay a visit to one of the original GJC organizers – the Safir Table Tennis Club in Örebro.

strong>Once you kind of hit mid February – the shivers start coming and like a letter in the mail the program-book arrives from the tournament director Lars Elwin and his crew. Nothing else to do – other than following the call of the mighty God of Table Tennis and book your trip to Örebro . For years that trip involved a lengthy trip overseas from Ottawa to Sweden . Not so any more . This morning I took the 1031 train from Halmstad with the arrival set four hours later . Easy ride had it not been for the fact that my laptop is taking a nap on my office desk – and here i am riding the train .

Good practice though to put away the computer and circulate among coaches and players on the floor for a few days . It is quite clear that the Safir event holds the fort quite well as one of the toughest tests on the junior circuit . To win here you need to be absolutely on top of your game – and walk the walk in the footprints of some great talents , once crowned winners in the Safir’s event and later to become world class athletes. Who can forget a young Kenta Matsudaira executing his axe-serve with perfection , hardly being able to see over the table surface or the tiny – yet brilliantly talented Jun Mizutani doing his tricks back in the early goings of the junior programme.

But all that is history . Reality is that since all the roads and rails in Sweden this time of the year lead to Idrottshuset in Örebro – even a simple , forgetful Senior Consultant will eventually found his way home .

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