When I wrote up my Table Tennis Resume the other day, it started me on a trip down memory lane, thinking back to the various National tournaments I had been to and the various players I had seen and played against. Some of these players from nearly 15-20 years ago are still playing at near the top of Australian table tennis, while others have disappeared from the scene as far as I know.
This started me wondering about why do some players keep coming back year after year, competing to the best of their ability, and often coaching or taking board positions in the various associations, while others give it up completely?
Perhaps for those who give it away, the game of table tennis was a personal accomplishment, a desire to reach their full potential – and once this upper limit was achieved they felt they had no more to gain. Not for them the slow slide down the rankings list as the young guns attempt to use them as a stepping stone on the way to the top. Not for them the feeling of time creeping up on you as you find yourself another year older and a fraction slower in reflexes, or heavier in body, with less time to train due to family commitments. Not for them the frustration of having your brain know exactly the right tactics and shots to play, but being stuck in an aching and possibly injured body that can no longer carry out your plans effortlessly. And who can blame them – it is most often the trip to the summit of the mountain that people are interested in – not the journey back down.
But then there are those who have climbed their own Everest, and know that their best years are behind them. And yet they are still there at every tournament, ready and willing to put their reputation and skills on the line against the current crop of top youngsters. They pull on their knee bandages and rub in the tiger balm, and go out to battle yet again. Sometimes they are even coaching the up and coming juniors as well – and doesn’t every junior remember that first time he beat his coach?
Today I find that I am caught between the two worlds of the young player in his prime and the aging warrior. At 34 (at the time of writing), I’m old enough to know that I’m never going to be champion of Australia in the Open Singles (Sigh!) – my personal summit lies a bit lower than that lofty peak. But I’m still young enough to think that perhaps if I train a bit more, drop a bit more weight, improve my technique a fraction, and keep adding to my mental armoury then I might just be able to inch my way up the cliff face to that ledge just above.
And perhaps that is what keeps these veterans coming back. Maybe these players who keep playing, year in and year out, still think that they have room to improve. They might never reach the peak of Everest again, but there are other mountains to climb, and they are determined to reach the top of the one they are on.
Those table tennis players who reach the top and fulfill their potential fully deserve the respect and accolades they get. The Wang Liqins and Timo Bolls have earned it. But I find as I get older I’m admiring more and more the players like Waldner and Surbek, who played at the top of the world stage for so long, and in Australia the likes of Paul Pinkewich and Jeff Drew, who are still incredibly good at 50 and beyond.
So to all you aging table tennis champions, and even to those who never quite made it to hero status but are still playing on – here’s a toast to you. I hope that in fifteen or twenty years I’ll be putting on my knee bandages and rubbing in that liniment so I can go out and compete against tomorrow’s elite. And maybe I’ll still be eyeing that ledge on the mountain just that little bit higher up …
<Wow, how time flies. It’s now January 2020 and I’m 49. I was right, I didn’t become Australian Champion in the Open Singles, but I did manage to climb a little higher up that cliff after all! And I’m still finding new challenges to motivate me!>