However, Ovtcharov gave China a brief scare when he took a 2-1 lead against Fan Zhendong, but Fan was able to stay calm and come back. As Liu Guoliang later remarked, if Ovtcharov had won that, then it would have been 1-1, which would have put China in an uncomfortable position. Based on Liu’s remarks, Fan will almost certainly be back in 2024 as a veteran presence.
Liu Guoliang already has his eyes set towards the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. He stated that while the women’s team is in a position of dominance given the youth of Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu, the men’s team will need to make some adjustments heading into the next Olympic cycle as Ma Long and Xu Xin age into retirement.
Liu in particular praised Sun Yingsha as an idol and role model for the next generation not just in table tennis but all of Chinese athletics. He also praised Chen Meng’s dominance in winning two gold at this Olympic Games, hinting that she may be back for the 2024 Olympics at the age of 31.
Liu also acknowledged the veteran presence of Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning and the impact they have had on the National Team culture. He praised Liu for the journey she took recovering from elbow surgery last Fall, and said although they obviously would rather have won gold in mixed doubles, there is not much to regret since she came out, performed, and gave it her all.
Liu also reflected on his own journey in table tennis, noting that it was his seventh Olympic games. He quipped that when he was a player, he felt that being a player was the most stressful job. Then he became a coach and realized being a coach was the most stressful job. Then he became head coach and then director of the Chinese National Team, and each time he realized that the job was even more stressful.
Liu Shiwen sat down with WTT last week for an interview with WTT on her recovery from an elbow injuryand her role as the mixed doubles player and veteran women’s team member at the Tokyo Olympics. A translation is provided below. Pictures were taken from here.
So far, it’s been going quite well. Ever since January, my physical and technical condition have been gradually improving bit by bit. Actually, I feel like the hardest part was during that time when I was hurt. During that time, I really felt hurt and confused, and I faced a lot of unknowns, so emotionally I felt like I was crumbling. After deciding to get surgery, I had to start over and prepare from scratch.
And even though the recovery process after surgery has been difficult too, overall I consider it to be going smoothly. Every day, I can see my improvement, and I feel like my condition is even better than before I got hurt. And during the recovery, my fighting spirit has also gradually been recovering, like I’ve found my motivation in life and in ping pong again. Because during that time, really every day was painful and confusing, never knowing what the situation was. I was very worried, and I had to face it. And it was hard to face the confusing injury situation and Olympic situation. When you don’t know how it is to face it, i makes you feel like you’re crumbling.
After getting surgery, a lot of it was just recovering from the pain, just constantly testing the pain and then adjusting myself. Actually, I felt like this was more targeted motivating. Then everyday was just trying to conquer myself and then live well day by day. This is quite motivating and challenging.
What helps you get to the game back faster?
In the early stage, I feel like it’s because of the people around me. I feel like it’s because the entire coaching staff, including teammates like my doubles partner Xu Xin, still believe in me. Even though I was hurt for so long, they still really believe in me. I feel like this has given me a lot of power. Actually when I first started rehab, I felt like the time was very tight. I didn’t know if I would be able to play to the level of, let’s not even talk about the Olympics, my normal training condition. I really didn’t know.
But with everyone giving me encouragement combined with the Olympics and the mixed doubles event, I felt like these two points simultaneously gave me a lot of support that allowed me to get through the early stages of laying a foundation, which were really difficult.
What was it like the first time you returned to playing?
I think the first time I picked up a paddle again was in Guangzhou during the league match [presumably she is referring to this event in December]. At that time, I just wanted to move around and try it out a bit. Actually training was out of the question.
Then in Chengdu [in December], it felt pretty similar. However, when I was in Chengdu, my teammates were all on holiday. Really when I was able to return to gathering, training and eating with my teammates was around January. Actually, I was pretty happy and calm. I feel like to be able to return with my team and train with everyone [made me happy]. Because before that I had to do a lot preparations, I hadn’t played for almost a year, and I had just recovered from surgery. I feel like just returning to the team isn’t easy. Because you have to keep up with everyone else’s training rhythm and competitiveness. This requires a very high standard.
And after returning to the team, even though I couldn’t completely return to training, sometimes I couldn’t keep up, just being around everyone and seeing everyone train inspired. So I still had the desire to return to my previous level. I wasn’t thinking about the Olympics. I was just thinking about getting a little bit better and finding my best condition.
Have you returned to 100 percent?
Well how do you measure what is 100 percent? Actually I haven’t put too much though into that. I just want to diligently get better a little bit every day and conquer myself. My goal is not to return to my old form. Actually I want to find a new self, to conquer myself continuously, not to compare with how I was playing before. So I don’t think I need to measure whether I’ve returned to my old self. I want to improve bit by bit and surpass my old self.
But now I feel like from the perspective of the mixed doubles at the Olympics, my partnership with Xu Xin has had a big improvement. Even though I have just returned for three or four months, the time we have spent together is really long. And for both of us our main event is mixed doubles, so we have been training together and improving our chemistry a lot, so I think we understand each other even better than before. In this regard, I have a lot of confidence.
From the perspective of singles and other things, I just need to diligently move forward one step at a time.
What are your thoughts on Xu Xin?
First of all I’m very thankful to him. Because I was hurt for so long, and I at the stage when I couldn’t practice, I communicated with him and told him this injury is actually pretty serious. Even though I hadn’t decided to get surgery yet, I kind of knew it in my heart. He put a lot of confidence in me. He told me, “first take care of your injury. We still have time.”
I think our trust in each other is very solid, so even though in the early stages of recovery I was play pretty poorly, he was still always giving me encouragement and trust. I feel like this trust comes from the bottom of our hearts.
I feel like it wasn’t easy for him either, because when I was hurt he had to change doubles partner and it was all very confusing. But I feel like since I’ve returned and we’ve trained together every day, his playing condition is getting better and better. And now that we’ve entered the final sprint in preparations and start to peak, I feel like his condition and his fighting spirit have never been better. I feel like this has driven me a lot, and I really +hope that we can get gold together at the Olympics.
Will there be pressure at the Olympics?
Of course there will be pressure. No matter what you’re playing, there’s pressure if you want to win. Well after all, for the Olympics, it’s everyone’s dream. Even though I’ve attended before, the desires you have towards the Olympics still are very strong.
I feel like your desire and motivation to win a championship will certainly give you pressure. Your intensity will definitely defeat the pressure, the dread, and the fear. I feel this very closely, because I feel like after all these years, we’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are today. I think we believe in ourselves. Coupled with the desire for the Olympics, we want to stand on the stage of the Olympics as soon as possible. Then I hope to be able to showcase myself. After all, walking down this road that we do, why do we persist? It is to stand on the Olympic podium.
Have you completed your Olympic preparations?
Although the Olympics have been postponed, our motivation and belief in our hearts has always been there. It feels like you don’t even have to finish saying the word Olympics, and our hair will raise. So even though sometimes we will adjust, maybe we’ll slow down our footwork since the timing and rhythm in the competition are not the same, the words Olympics are always there. We just have to say the words Olympics and we will mobilize ourselves into the zone. The power and desire inside of us is already there.
Hopefully during the final sprint of preparations, we can improve ourselves and make ourselves stronger, and hopefully we will have more confidence at the Olympics.
As an Olympic veteran, how will you guide other players?
I hope I can be useful to the team as a mentor. It’s not just technical things. I think it’s even more on the experience side in many ways, and I hope I can guide my teammates on the women’s team. I think they are undoubtedly very, very strong, but they do lack Olympic experience. Sometimes we will communicate and talk a bit. Once we walk into the Olympic Village, we are a unity, playing for our country, for our team. No matter what kind of task I undertake, I hop fulfill it to perfection. Then I hope that we can complete this task ahead of us to perfection.
What is it like to play mixed doubles as the first event at the Olympics?
It’s pretty good. I’m pretty happy that I’m able to take this responsibility. I’m also very happy that I’m able to complete it with everybody. Actually, before in some meetings and team interactions, I said I would try my best to share my experience with others. Then it feels like I have some value (laughs). Hopefully, I can help everyone, help this team, and in the process I’m also rewarded greatly.
What do the Olympics mean to you?
I believe it is a platform to improve yourself and conquer yourself.
We translate a recent group of quick interviews about travel that Table Tennis World did with various members of the Chinese National Team over the last several weeks regarding their travel preferences (sources: one, two, three).
What is the favorite place that you have competed in?
Ma Long: Suzhou
Xu Xin: Shanghai
Fan Zhendong: I have traveled to many places for competition, but the places that have left the biggest mark on me are my first singles World Championships in Paris and my first team World Championships in Tokyo.
Lin Gaoyuan: Japan and Korea
Liu Shiwen: Tokyo
Ding Ning: I don’t have a favorite
Chen Meng: Weihai
Sun Yingsha: I go to wherever there’s good food haha
Wang Manyu: My favorite foreign country is Morroco. My favorite domestic city is Shenzhen.
Zhu Yuling: Korea
Which country or city have you been to that you would recommend fans to travel to and why?
Ma Long: China, it has has everything
Xu Xin: Fiji. The weather is good, the sea is good, and it’s expensive (luxurious?).
Lin Gaoyuan: Japan, the grilled meat is delicious.
Liu Shiwen: United States. I feel like there are so many places to go. Although I’ve been there and planned a lot, I haven’t really been to the most fun places.
Chen Meng: Qingdao, my hometown. The scenery is beautiful and it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There’s also delicious seafood and Tsingtao beer, which will be worth it for everyone.
Sun Yingsha: Everywhere is not bad. I don’t go out too much haha
Where is somewhere you would like to go at least once in your life?
Ma Long: Iceland
Xu Xin: My dream when I was young was to go to Australia, and now I have been there.
Lin Gaoyuan: Maldives
Liu Shiwen: Maldives
Chen Meng: In the sky in a hot air balloon hahaha
Sun Yingsha: Paris
Do you like to travel with a plan or do you do what your heart wants?
Ma Long: A mix of both
Xu Xin: I travel with friends
Fan Zhendong: When you travel, you must go wherever your heart wants
Lin Gaoyuan: When I go out I must travel with a plan.
Liu Shiwen: I travel with a plan.
Ding Ning: I actually prefer to plan the first part, but once I get there then I like the kind of people who just follow their heart.
Chen Meng: I travel with a plan.
Sun Yingsha: Do what my heart wants.
Wang Manyu: Do what my heart wants
Zhu Yuling: I travel with a plan
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