By: Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Simply the sporting occasion has a unique status; it is only held every four years, qualifying is a time of tension, qualification is a pressure valve released.
Only a very limited number of players compete; it is a never to be forgotten experience but above all else, for the rest of an athlete’s life, being able use the magic word “Olympian”, places one in a very special category.
In fact it does the same for those who attend in the capacity of an official in whatever respect.
It may not be the same in every sport. Will golf at the Olympic Games ever hold a higher status than the Open held every year in the United Kingdom; similarly in the world of tennis will anything surpass Wimbledon?
The British will have none of being usurped by a pretender.
The Question in Seoul
In table tennis, if the question was asked in Seoul, when the sport made its debut in the Olympic Games, which was the more prestigious title to win, the World Championships or Olympic gold; the answer may just have erred on the side of the World Championships.
However, in the Korean city, rumoured that table tennis was the first sport to fill its seating capacity with over 65,000 tickets sold and over 70 per cent sold before it was known which players may reach the latter stages, one message was quite clear.
Table tennis had justified its inclusion in the Olympic Games.
Four years later in Barcelona, table tennis stood tall alongside other well established sports.
Furthermore, the tide was turning, I suspect that had the question been posed which had the higher status World Championships or the Olympic Games; the vote might have been equal.
Status of Games
Also, the Olympic Games itself had grown in stature, regulations regarding amateurism had changed whilst the boycott by the Americans in 1980 and by the Soviet Union four years later were resigned to history.
Table tennis entered the Olympic Games when a new era for the quadrennial event had dawned; perhaps we did not know it at the time but the timing was quite perfect.
However, should we think of the World Championships and the Olympic Games as being adversaries?
It was a concern in the mid-1980s when proposals were being made but should we not think of the two competitions as being complementary.
The fact that this year we had the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games gives two major opportunities to promote our sport.
At the Olympic Games, players rub shoulders with athletes from other sports, they cross the paths of household names.
Major world leaders and royalty visit; people come to the Olympic Games because it is the Olympic Games; they may watch table tennis for the first time. They may well be able to tell you the achievements of Usain Bolt at the Olympic Games but I doubt they can at the World Championships.
It is the pinnacle for table tennis; that is good for the World Championships, good for the sport in general. It is a window of opportunity.