Hugo Hoyama, the Brazilian talisman
Photo By: Mauricio Val
2012 Olympic Games
Victory in five games over Trinidad and Tobagoís Dexter St Louis on Monday 5th March 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, at the Latin American Olympic Qualification Tournament, secured a place in the London Olympic Games for Brazilís Hugo Hoyama.
Now 43 years old, one year younger than his Caribbean adversary in the decisive contest, the Brazilian will be competing in no less than his sixth consecutive Olympic Games.
It puts him in a very elite class.
There are only five men who by being present in London will have met or excelled that number.
No womam by being in action in London will exceed five appearances.
Nigeriaís Segun Toriola will be making his sixth appearance when he competes in London; whilst for the irrepressible trio of Belgiumís Jean-Michel Saive, Croatiaís Zoran Primorac and Swedenís JŲrgen Persson it will be their seventh.
Surely, for Hugo Hoyama, the city of London will be his farewell to the Olympic arena; is it really feasible that when the Olympic Games are staged in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 that the great servant of Brazilian table tennis will be on duly.
Brazil will be guaranteed a place in the Menís Team event four years hence and also a place in the Menís Singles but for Hugo Hoyama, if he is to be selected then the heart must have ruled the head.
Nothing is certain in sport but if he can prove me wrong, I will be delighted.
At a tournament in Brazil, win or lose, the local media demands an interview with Hugo Hoyama; the fans request his autograph and to meet the dignitaries he is the first choice.
The successor to the late Claudio Kano, so tragically killed prior to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games; Hugo Hoyama has been the Brazilian table tennis icon, a player with a record none other can compare.
Latin American Championships
Since his debut in Las Tunas, Cuba in 1989, he has won no less than 44 medals at Latin American Championships; that is 18 editions of the tournament.
Furthermore, some 65 per cent are coloured gold. The collection reads: 29 gold, 13 silver and only three bronze; notably, he was appeared in 11 Menís Singlesí finals and won five.
Pan American Games
Extending the boundaries beyond Latin America to Pan America; again the record is quite incredible.
He possesses a total of 15 medals from the Pan American Games; 10 gold, one silver and three bronze, being twice the Menís Singles champion. He won in the Cuban capital city of Havana in 1991 and retained the title in 1995 in the Argentine town of Mar del Plata.
A Special Year
Success in 1995 but it was the following year, where on the global scene he caused two major upsets; he beat two World champions.
Not only did he beat two World champions but he beat two World champions who were very much at the peak of their powers.
Atlanta and NÓmes
At the Atlanta Olympic Games, he overcame Swedenís JŲrgen Persson to book his place in the round of 16, where in a full distance five games contest he was beaten by the Czech Republicís Petr Korbel (in Atlanta it was best of five games, each game to 21 points).
An outstanding performance in Atlanta was followed later in the year in September in the French city of NÓmes, where he beat Chinaís Kong Linghui at the Perrier Menís World Cup.
Tremendous performances but the victories were some 16 years ago and times change; table tennis has moved forward and the style of Hugo Hoyama is no longer encouraged amongst aspiring young players.
Left handed, pen-hold grip, using one side of the racket only is a style now resigned to history; it worked for Yoo Nam Kyu in 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Games, the right handed version proved successful for Ryu Seungmin in Athens in 2004; in London I think not.
In London, Hugo Hoyama will play in both the Menís Singles and with Gustavo Tsuboi and Thiago Monteiro in the Menís Team event.
Noticeably, the powers that be in Brazil did not select Cazuo Matsumoto for the Menís Team; Gustavo Tsuboi and Hugo Hoyama both secured their Olympic places at the Latin American Olympic Qualification tournament.
Chose Thiago Monteiro
There was one place for the selectors to decide to complete the team; it went to the right handed shake-hands grip player, Thiago Monteiro, as opposed to the left handed Cazuo Matsumoto, who like Hugo Hoyama, is a traditional pen-holder, using one side of the racket only.
Hugo Calderano and Eric Jouti
Now the place of both Hugo Hoyama and Cazuo Matsumoto in the Brazilian first team is under threat. Equally both Thiago Monteiro and Gustavo Tsuboi must look over their shoulders; Hugo Calderano and Eric Jouti currently occupy the top two places on the ITTF Junior Circuit Boysí Singles Standings.
Surely they are candidates for Olympic places four years hence in Rio de Janeiro. In time can they secure a precious medal for Brazil?
One wonders, had the discussions that took place within the hierarchy of the International Table Tennis Federation in 1937, regarding a possible application to be part of the Olympic Games come to fruition and had the Second World War not intervened, would Brazil already possess an Olympic medallist?
In 1955, only 13 years old at the time, S„o Pauloís Ubiraci Rodrigues Da Costa, better known as Biriba, beat both Toshiaku Tanaka and Ichiro Ogimura when the Japanese stars were touring South America.
Toshiaku Tanaka had won the Menís Singles title at the World Championships in 1955, Ichiro Ogimura won in 1956 and Toshiaku Tanaka regained the title in 1957.
The next time the event was held was in 1959, when Rong Guotan became the first ever Chinese player to win the coveted title.
Two years later in 1961, the tournament was staged in Beijing, the first time ever in China. Rong Guotan failed to retain the crown. He lost to Biriba in five games, a result which stunned the crowd.
In London can Hugo Hoyama stun those who visit the ExCeL Arena; I fear it is his last chance.