The Chills and The Thrills from Rabat

ImageIt is what it is. The Eleven Point Blog these days lives on inspiration alone.  Therefore the irregularities when it comes to posting news and words of wisdom from the wonderful world of International Table Tennis.

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But here we are. Three days gone since the finish of the eleventh ITTF World Junior Table Tennis championships. And what a finish it was,  with the Korean last year junior JANG Woojin dancing his victory dances on the centre court table in Rabat,  . The ITTF World Juniors in Morocco was another fine example of how important this event has become with our members – the national associations. The full field of ninety six + ninety six entries is just one of many indications of the growing interest for youth and junior table tennis. It is now up to the ITTF to take advantage of this and make sure to have the professional pathways clearly lit up for the many aspiring young players graduating from junior table tennis.

You would think that dynamic changes to the professional tour that we have offered in the same format (cosmetic changes only) since the start in the late nineties,  is around the corner ?. Because right now – with a static ranking system directing the traffic we , as  an Olympic sport , have one of the steepest ( and slowest) climb  to the top for anybody except a couple of full-fledged well groomed Chinese top juniors .  These amazing “creatures ” ;  like Fan Zhendong , like GU Yuting,  will always have success due to their mature skill-set.. They will earn their cash, take a bunch of prisoners on the ITTF World tour and advance towards stardom pretty quickly.

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Adriana DIAZ from Puerto     Rico will soon have to look for ways on the professional tour..

Adriana DIAZ from Puerto Rico will soon have to look for ways on the professional tour..

No ,  the more interesting story to write , is about the development players from cash-strapped national associations in non-traditional table tennis markets. For them it is a tough and costly ride ahead , just to get any kind of momentum and success.  

We will lose many of them too soon and too quickly to lower level European leagues that gradually will absorb calendar time and curve international ambitions. I wish that those few making the decisions  , could listen to the call and make some changes to the professional offerings of the ITTF.

Give us a true challenge tour model with strict and well defined qualification tiers to reach the next level. Give us a system that has some kind of attendance guarantee . The  Best players must play internationally   and expose  their ranking positions , rather than sitting at home picking their appearance spots ( often outside the tour ) .

But that is perhaps another story.  Still, let’s hope and pray for some good news coming out of the ITTF brouhaha planned for Dubai early next year.  We need sweeping changes – we need to change the dynamics when it comes to our pro level tournament and events.

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Back to the 2013 World Junior Table Tennis Championships in Rabat. Here comes the Chills and the Thrills from another fine, well organized championship.

The Thrills ;

One Picture is worth more than Thousands of Words.

I am quite sure that those following the event already noticed the almost amazing job done by our artist in Photography; Remy Gros from France.  It is a true delight to see him in action from morning until evening capturing every single moment of importance. Hard work – Perfection desired and just fantastic. Thank you from all of us (with this I mean damn it the whole wonderful world of TT)  You can recap the 2013 ITTF WJTTC with the help of Remy’s work.. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ittfworld/collections/72157638246681403/

 Dancing on the Table

11278081315_d9dd4656c3_cPure traditionalist may not like this one – but I guess it is part of the Korean winning tradition by now. JEONG Sangeun did it in Palo Alto 2007 and here in Rabat it happened again when JANG Woojin had plenty of time with a convincing lead in the fifth game to think about how to celebrate his junior boys’ title.  He opted to stand tall on that Joola table and I say; good for him. He did it the hard way – just like a Korean would like it to be done.  JANG has a tiger heart and is not afraid to go his own way.  He did spend a year or two?  outside Korea training in Ochsenhausen following the 2010 World Cadet Challenge title –a rare move by a young player from Korea . I am sure it helped him this time. Tough Kid  +  Tough player + Gutsy performance = One fine title .

A Song for Mr. Song..

Well… I just loved the moment when the entire crew representing the Korean Junior Association stood there with the palm of the hand touching their hearts during the Korean National Anthem.  Over the years we have shared some fine moments me and Mr. Song – the smooth swinging KJTTA president.  Deep down it is all about the passion – that’s why we are (forever) “Brothers in Arms” in the name of the ITTF Global Junior Programme.

On the fifth time trying – More Gold came her way

The walking record book of the ITTF – a certain Mr. Ian Marshall thoroughly enjoyed the fact that GU Yuting – the dynamic lefthander from China took a successful run at winning her fifth straight Junior girls double title. I would imagine that such a record will be hard to beat in the future – give it a hundred years and it may still be standing.  GU of course later made it a triple gold run by winning the junior girl’s singles in dramatic fashion, almost being down and out in the seventh and deciding game trailing 4-8…

Good Morning Nigeria – You are back and You are interesting !

Last time checking Nigeria was a country of 150 million people in the heart of Africa. There was a time when you were dominating Table Tennis in Africa – but that was long before the ITTF Global Junior Programme (if it still exists) came calling.  It is pretty simple really – new, fresh ideas under new leadership and with both one – two and three times the ITTF knocking on the door with a fine menu of youth oriented programs we have awakened a market that holds so much potential. Full credit to the ITTF Education Director Polona Cehovin Susin, for her motherly love and persistence when working to lift the level of Table Tennis in Africa. I say; hard-nosed development work paying dividend.

Standing Tall for Your Team

11189929325_5bac313db4_cOuch, it was a hard loss that I know touched a nerve or two with the ITTF Junior Commission chair and USA supporter Dennis Davis.  But the US girls team did try their best – they even stood up for their team mates in the court this time against Romania in the quarterfinals .Tooooo bad though that they never seem to gather around the same campfire these girls.  Last year in Hyderabad playing without Ariel Sing – this year without Lily Zhang…  More USA..(Yes, I am trying to boost the interest for this market). The boy’s team competing in Rabat was the youngest in the field and not always the most focused. At the same time they are promising like no one else and can gradually improve to challenge for medals down the road – no doubt in my mind. Kanak JHA can play five more World Juniors – Kunal Chodri four and the talented Allen Wang can play three .  USA finished thirteen already this year.

The full field scenario

Worth mentioning once more. The full field of twenty teams with additional top ranked juniors joining for singles meant one of the toughest first singles rounds I have ever seen at the World Juniors. It was good table tennis from the start of the singles competition – believe me.Just look at a good , interesting and recently very successful junior player like Joa GERALDO from Portugal. High hopes this time , but out already in the opening round.

Showcasing the Noble art of Attention to Details.

IMG_0503Nothing missing on this poster.  All continents represented with their top juniors, gender equity as well. Just pretty and classy if you ask me.  The ITTF Special event and Olympic Games expert Raul Calin is a man that knows a thing or two about organizing events of this nature.  Preparation and deep down knowledge is combined with hard work and attention to details.

Just Another Good Orange  

IMG_0489Good morning Orange Juice – Good morning Morocco.. This was the very best I have tasted during my rough and rowdy fifteen years of travelling the world in the name of Table Tennis.

Now …The Chills…

Brrrr

It was unimaginable cold in the venue in Rabat. Especially in the mornings and late evenings. Not a big deal though – same for all athletes.. But I can tell you that the winter gear came out for us watching and working.  Something related to the roofing isolation they said.

Yuto coming up short

Let us first of all remember that this Japanese wonder boy is born in the year 1997 which gives him two more tries to win a world junior title.  This time it was not enough and if we are as truth-seeking as we say we are; Yuto Muramatsu never looked comfortable out there, especially failing with his forehand attacks as well as with his first line of defense.  Just a little bit worried that the Japanese coaches may have instituted a more traditional defensive style of coaching instead of developing the hybrid style of defense/offense  that made this young player into one of the more interesting prospects in the wonderful world of international table tennis . Fight on Yuto – But Think on too.

The crash of Egypt…

Ooops ..This was a monumental disappointment. The Junior Boys team looked lifeless from the start and showed in fact nothing dropping to position nr 18. The girls made very little noise despite a fair performance in the 1-3 loss versus Croatia in then opening group stage and finished as low as fifteen.

Just like that the table tennis future for the land of the pyramids does not look all that good. I do understand that the political crises has taken the life out of Egyptian Table Tennis and sports overall.. But you have to appear with passion and pride anyway.

The Land They One Time Called The Future

I don’t know what it is really.  But I have a feeling that the ITTF clearly has walked away from the belief that we need a strong and vibrant ITTF Global Junior Programme in our sport.  There was a time when we all got involved ,  cared and actually built the ITTF Global Junior Programme  , officials doing what they need to do and the staff working hard to fulfill the  goals identified by  a strong and clear vision as the guiding principle . Today, without professional management the programme part is sailing without a compass on the open sea.. And the wind is blowing hard now with a top to down , control  first – think after – model of descion making seemingly the preferred method of governance . In Rabat – The ITTF Junior Commission held an eight hour meeting mostly trying to understand what the ITTF Executive Committee wanted – rather than proactively working with much needed improvements and offensive initiatives in support of potentially the best and most innovative Junior Programme in international sports.

 It is Written in the Sand 

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