by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
She became the youngest ever medallist in the history of the table tennis at an Olympic Games.
Furthermore was there not another phrase which befitted her efforts; does not “an old head of young shoulders” best describe Mima Ito? She who was only 15 years of age when she played in Kuala Lumpur and in Rio de Janeiro.
At the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships, she remained unbeaten throughout the whole of the first stage of proceedings and in the main draw only lost two matches; at the semi-final stage she was beaten by Kim Song I in the contest against DPR Korea, in the final by Ding Ning in the three-nil defeat at the hands of China.
Notably, earlier in the tournament, Mima Ito had beaten Kim Song I in the group phase, whilst against Ding Ning she did cause some moments of consternation. She won the first game before the future Olympic champion seized control.
However, was it not in the quarter-final contest in Kuala Lumpur that the “head on young shoulders” theory was most clearly illustrated; the degree of faith displayed by the order of play endorsing the fact?
In the Japanese Women’s outfit Mima Ito had replaced the great team fighter Sayaka Hirano; she had been pivotal to her country’s silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games and at the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo.
The quarter-final contest at a World Team Championships is the make or break round, win and a medal is guaranteed; in the modern era China is so strong that the goal set by many a coach is to reach the penultimate round. In Kuala Lumpur against Germany in the vital round of last eight fixture, Mima Ito was sent out first to play. She beat Kristin Silbereisen and set Japan en route to a three-nil win.
Equally at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, did she not also earn another phrase; that of “stronger from defeat”.
Once again facing Germany at the quarter-final stage, she missed her chance against Petrissa Solja, before experiencing a doubles defeat in harness with Ai Fukuhara against Shan Xiaona and Petrissa Solja. It was for Mima Ito a salutary experience.
Two days later in the bronze medal match against Singapore, Mima Ito set the record straight. She partnered Ai Fukuhara to success against Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan, prior to beating Feng Tianwei to conclude matters.
In both Kuala Lumpur and Rio de Janeiro, Mima Ito had assumed a level of responsibility that belied her years but which phrase is the most apt?
Is it “the youngest ever”, or “old head on young shoulders”, or “stronger from defeat”, your vote.