By Adam Bobrow.
Context: In 2012 it was a VERY emotional gold medal match and superhuman level of play. Watching Ding Ning brought to tears after losing two points for a faulted serve and a penalty for questioning a call she didn’t agree with, it was tough not to get tears in your eyes as a spectator. While Li Xiaoxia was unstoppable then, it’s fair to say that match was quite dramatic. And for 22-year-old Ding Ning, a little girl’s dream was still only in her sleep.
4 years later, August 10th, 2016, Ding Ning is given the opportunity of a life time. As world ranked #2 she is trusted over the #1 player in the world, Liu Shiwen, by the leaders of the table tennis world to bring a gold medal home to China.
It was tied 1-1 in games and Ding Ning was up 7-3. You could FEEL the tears welling up in her face as Li Xiaoxia starts to come back. From that moment on, the salt water starts collecting and Ding Ning is clearly on the verge of exploding into tears. A few points later Ding Ning is down 9-10. She then saves THREE game points to take the third game 14-12.
With a then 2-1 lead, Ding Ning loses 9-11 and 8-11 to have her teammate and biggest hurdle… her friend in practice and the nightmare at the table, flip her childhood dream on its back. Li Xiaoxia is ONE GAME AWAY from taking the gold medal again like she did in 2012.
Ding Ning steps up her game, takes game 6 and in game 7… the deciding game… we would either have Li Xiaoxia tie for being one of three women in history to take a SECOND Olympic Gold in Singles OR we would have Ding Ning be the FIFTH woman in HISTORY to become a Grand Slam Champion (winning the singles titles for Olympics, World Championships and World Cup).
The image of Ding Ning crying in 2016 was quite different than 4 years earlier. It was not even the tears of 4 years of work since London to accomplish her dream that we see. It was 20 years…. of devoting her LIFE starting at age 6 to know nothing better than table tennis.
To learn that some sacrifices in life you have to make if you want to go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. When friends are socializing and you’re doing physical therapy to heal your torn muscles before you’ve graduated middle school. When you think back to the frst time you were trusted to represent your country at the World Team Championships and lost. To remember that you were down in game 7 at the 2015 World Championships when you sprained your ankle, but managed to stand up, stand strong and cross the finish line first….
To look your senior teammate, the defending gold medalist, in the eyes and remember that last time you stood on the opposite side of the table for an official match… she beat you in Kuwait and more importantly… HERE, in the gold medal match 4 years before, she took your life-long dream…. ALL OF THAT… is what came pouring out of Ding Ning the moment she won the gold medal.
Ding Ning, The Queen of Hearts, has captured the hearts of the world and was carried by the crowd in tears of 20 years worth of dreaming and suffering through hard work to finally have this dream with her eyes open.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The ‘HARD’ is what makes it great.” – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own, 1992
Congratulations, Ding Ning! And respect to Li Xiaoxia for creating a hurdle so high that only the sweetest jump could clear it. What a final! 8>)