Starting In Style

ImageThe six million Euro spectacle, smartly branded here in France as the Paris Ping is drawing nearer.  In fact, when the tournament management tomorrow morning unleashes what must be considered “organizational hell” ;  the  qualification events  organized in two venues far apart , we are underway with the 2013 Liebherr World Championships in Paris.  

One thing should be said right off the batWhatever they do” the French” –  it is done with class and in   style.  The opening press conference held yesterday night didn’t dilute from that concept either. The press gathering was perhaps on the smaller side with the well-known ITTF insiders leading the charge, but we all liked the venue – a lot. The organizing committee offered the Paris City Hall for a quick , but  unfortunately not very lively Q and A with some of the key “players” of the 2013 Liebherr World championships , including the defending world champions Zhang JIKE and Ding NING on the podium alongside with the ITTF President Adham Sharara and key officials from the organizing committee.

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The Director of the championships , Michel Gadal played his cards well and spoke about some of the challenges of riding the big “World championships Elephant” in the streets of Paris , whilst the former world champion, a  long-time friend , one time student of Gadal and now his business partner ; Jean Philippe Gatien told the media a few tidbits.

It was almost to the day twenty years ago that Jean Philippe Gatien won the singles title in Gothenburg, Sweden in hard fought match with Jean Michel Saive from Belgium who miraculously is still in the game and will play in Paris.

“We are preparing a special celebration of that moment. My dream was always to become the world champion at home and since we didn’t fix that during my active playing career – we now decided to make a replay of the match from twenty years ago here in Paris. By the way not the whole match – that would be too much for me these days – but hopefully we can offer smaller sample to the crowds of Bercy  Jean Philippe Gatien said smiling (probably thinking about the fixed nature of the re-match).

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ImageWith the ITTF President Adham Sharara in his famous “Paris thank you mode”  praising the efforts of the city of Paris and the French Association attention then turned to the present athletes and later the draw.

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As for the two Chinese rock-stars Zhang JIKE and Ding NING,  they both said – to be very honest not very much. Ding spoke about her form being good and that she felt perfectly alright with the playing conditions in Paris, Bercy.

ImageZhang on the other hand showed that lovely cocky side when he brushed away the fact that a relatively modest season has put him down to nr four on the world ranking list prior to this event. When asked about his lower seeding – nr four ,  Zhang grabbed the microphone , stared down at the chosen few  and said – and here I am using a  more of a free translation  ; Doesn’t matter at all who are the top seeds. What will count in the end is winning the matches you play regardless of who the opponent is.

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I have always been, happy to admit, a Zhang Jike fan. But in a way we all like the winners that are not afraid of adding the spice – showing their true colors and dare-s to be different. Zhang is one of these guys who can – and I am pretty sure will here in Paris play for the crowd. Perhaps we will not always see the spectacular shots – but I can assure you that we will see the raw emotions,  the power asserted by an athlete that I think has  the idea of growing his superstar status also in other markets – outside Asia.

Hey – what a good thing it would be for our sport to have that happen.  But then again I would put the word SPEAK ENGLISH highest on the agenda and nail it  to the wall in the secrest of all secret venues – The Chinese training center.  Maybe this generation will learn eventually? I am quite sure that key officials and the team management back I China realizes the urgent need of that to actually happen. At the same time it is up to the players – the athletes to ; JUST DO IT.

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The actual draw then took the center stage when the top sixteen seeds were officially inserted into the competition.  We – the fans is in for treat this time and it is evident that the players like to play I this magnificent Paris Bercy venue. 

All of the worthy are here to play – which is the good thing. The tough part is to fight for time and space with the four hundred plus others that will enter the world championships courts waiving the “We are ITTF family” flag. I don’t mind that to happen in the world team championships setting, much more suited for the ever present participation mentality in our sport.

But for the individual event – no thanks. Cut down – do it right and why not make a very, what I believe, healthy performance based connection between the two. 

If you perform well in world team championships – you receive a higher quota of individual entries and vice versa.  Such a system would also make perfect sense from a development point of view. In the teams you play a lot and you play all the time making that championship the perfect breeding ground for young players and national team progress.

But as always – that is a thing for the future and a thing for the board-room and higher command to decide.

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