by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
The absence of Jean-Michel Saive is arguably the most significant, his absence means that for the first time there will be no Belgian competitor, male or female competing in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games.
It is a situation that reflects the debt Belgium owes to the name Saive; only one other surname from that country has appeared in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games. In 1988 Karen Bogaerts competed in the Women’s Singles competition.
Otherwise the name is Saive; in 1996 in Atlanta and in 2000 in Sydney, younger brother Philippe but in the former it was only in the Men’s Singles. Only in Sydney the brothers combine to form a doubles pairing.
Conversely, for Croatia and Sweden the dynasty continues; Andrej Gacina continues to fly the flag for Croatia, he competes in the Men’s Singles event, having qualified by virtue of his World ranking.
Meanwhile, for Sweden Matilda Ekholm and Li Fen, who emerged successful in the European Olympic Games Qualification tournament, will compete in the Women’s Singles event in Rio de Janeiro; Pär Gerell and Kristian Karlsson will be in action in the Men’s Singles competition as well as with Mattias Karlsson in the Men’s Team event.
Similar to Pär Gerell, Matilda Ekholm and Li Fen gained his place European Olympic Games Qualification tournament; Kristian Karlsson by World ranking, Mattias Karlsson a team quota place.
All Eight Games
Representation in Rio de Janeiro means that the Swedish National Olympic Committee has been represented at all eight Olympic Games when table tennis has been staged; it is one of 15 such organisations to enjoy that status.
The others are: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Japan, Korea Republic, Nigeria, Poland and the United States.
However, of that number, only six National Olympic Committees have always had both male and female representation. They are Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea Republic, Nigeria and the United States.
Notably, the name of Croatia does not appear, even though Zoran Primorac and Andrej Gacina cover all eight Games.
A change to the political map of Europe following the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games is the reason. In 1988 Zoran Primorac represented what was then known as Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part.
It is a similar situation when considering the Czech Republic, Germany and Russia. At every Olympic Games when table has been staged, players from those present day countries have always been present; in fact Germany has always fielded both male and female players.
However, in 1988 in Seoul when Georg Bohm and Jörg Rosskopf competed in the Men’s Singles event, with Georg Bohm partnering Jürgen Rebel in the Men’s Doubles, whilst Jörg Rosskopf allied with Steffen Fetzner; they played under the name of Federal Germany.
Similarly in Seoul, although being from the Czech Republic Jindrich Pansky, Marie Hrachova, Renata Kasalova and Alena Safarova were on duty for Czechoslovakia.
Jindrich Pansky played in the Men’s Singles; Marie Hrachova, Renata Kasalova and Alena Safarova, all competed in the Women’s Singles with Marie Hrachova and Renata Kasalova being on Women’s Doubles duty.
Complicated, it is even more so when considering Russia.
In Seoul in 1988 Andrei Mazunov played in the Men’s Singles event and joined forces in the Men’s Doubles event with Boris Rosenberg; the pair competing under the banner of the Soviet Union.
Likewise Fliura Bualtova, Elena Kovtun and Valentina Popova competed in the Women’s Singles event; Fliura Bualtova and Elena Kovtun formed a Women’s Doubles pairing.
Four years later in Barcelona, Andrej Mazunov, Dmitrij Mazunov and Maxim Shmyrev competed under the banner of the Unified Team as did their female colleagues Galina Melnik, Irina Palina, Valentina Popova and Elena Timina.
All played in the respective Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events; additional Andrei Mazunov and Dimitrij Mazunov played Men’s Doubles Galina Melnik and Valentina Popova alongside Irana Palina and Elena Timina formed the Women’s Doubles pairs.
Four years later in Atlanta in 1996, the map of Europe had settled; Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, all former members of the Soviet Union, were competing in their own right.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine all compete in Rio de Janeiro.