by Simon Daish
“Goodbye to an Exemplary Sportsman”
More than 800 spectators attended He Zhiwen’s final appearance for Spain on Tuesday 1st November, and despite his loss to the higher ranked Grigory Vlasov (RUS) the crowd gave Spain’s 54-year-old legend an emotional standing ovation for his contribution to the country’s Table Tennis set up.
One day prior to the match a special presentation event was hosted in Grenada in honour of He Zhiwen’s wonderful Table Tennis career.
Eduardo Castillo (Councillor for Sports) praised the player’s past efforts and commitment to the Spanish National Team, “today we not only bid farewell to an athlete of high level, we say goodbye to an exemplary sportsman, who has managed to convey the values of sport.” The President of the Royal Spanish Table Tennis Federation Miguel Angel Machado has described He Zhiwen as a, “benchmark for Spanish Table Tennis.”
“He Zhiwen underlines the fact that if you look after yourself and combine that with a conservative style of play then you can play at a high level for many years.” – Ian Marshall (ITTF Publications Editor).
“Juanito”, the Adopted Spaniard
He Zhiwen was born in 1962 in Zhejiang (China) and represented China for a good portion of the 1980s, before making the move to Spain in 1989.
The Spanish fans adopted He Zhiwen as one of their own and soon the nickname “Juanito”, which roughly translates to “Little Juan”, was being sung out by the fans, partially due to the fact that some supporters found it difficult to pronounce his name.
While He Zhiwen never represented China at an Olympic Games, he did make four appearances on the big stage for Spain (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016).
Age No Barrier for He Zhiwen
Fans of Table Tennis are fortunate enough to live in a time when its athletes’ quality is very much in abundance. Even with the exceptional younger talent performing at such a high level, however, He Zhiwen aged 54 has shown in recent years that he still has what it takes to compete with the best.
Partnering up with fellow Spaniard Carlos Machardo at the Liebherr 2013 European Championships (Schwechat) He Zhiwen was able to take home a Men’s Doubles bronze, and two years’ later He Zhiwen became the oldest player to win an ITTF World Tour title combining with Machardo to take the GAC Group 2015 Spanish Open Men’s Doubles gold.
He Zhiwen also excelled at the 2016 World Veteran Table Tennis Championships (Alicante-Elche), where he picked up the Men’s Singles Over 50s trophy.
After bringing a career spanning over two decades to an end, “Juanito” expressed his thanks to the Spanish fans in a brief but rather sweet statement, “Twenty-seven years, time passes very quickly. I’m very happy. Thank you all.”