by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
It was for both outfits the second time that the title had been clinched, the boys had won in Linz in 2005, the girls in Bratislava in 2010; on all other occasions the respective titles had finished in the hands of China.
In Cape Town, for the first time ever China did not win either one or both team titles.
Does that signify the fact that in the not too distant future the current hegemony of China is under severe threat?
Now be careful; Japan fielded its best young players, as I would suggest did the Korea Republic, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong, the medal winning teams.
Conversely in the Chinese selection there were some notable absentees; players born in 1998 or earlier who could have played in Cape Town.
Neither Liu Dingshuo, 18 years old nor Xue Fei, one year younger, the players who contested the Boys’ Singles final one year ago in France were on duty; neither was 16 year old Wang Chuqin, a semi-finalist in La Roche sur Yon.
Similarly, in the Girls’ Team; Wang Manyu, He Zhuojia and Qian Tianyi were not amongst the Cape Town selection.
Earlier this year Qian Tianyi, like Wang Chuqin only 16 years old, emerged successful on the ITTF World Junior Circuit on the two occasions when she appeared; she won on home soil in Taicang and also in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, He Zhuojia, now 18 years of age, was a Girls’ Singles semi-finalist at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Shanghai. Notably her nemesis was Wang Manyu, the young lady who progressed to win the title and last year completed a successful defence.
Pertinently all six names are currently appearing in the China Super League, with Wang Manyu hitting the headlines when recently she beat Ding Ning, the reigning Olympic and World champion.
Also you can add Niu Guankai to the list, earlier this year he won the Cadet Boys’ Singles title at the Asian Junior and Cadet Championships beating Tomokazu Harimoto in the final; he is presently listed at no.2 on the Under 15 Boys’ World Rankings.
Did China send the second team to Cape Town? Did they misread the situation or was there different thinking?
Simply was it all part of test for the long term future? The goal is surely to be successful at senior level and is that a message for the rest of the world?
Junior play is preparing players for the next stage; it is not an end in itself, it is a stepping stone.
The players who represented China in the team events in Cape Town were all of a high technical level, otherwise they would not be in consideration for the Chinese second junior team. I suspect the coaches were keeping an eagle eye on those who fought, those who revelled in the heat of the battle; those who reflected a strong mental approach.
Take nothing away from Japan, it was an outstanding achievement and have they learned from China?
At the end of the last century there was a lull in Japanese fortunes; now consider the number of player they field in ITTF World Junior Circuit events. Accepted China has the largest population on planet earth but in the modern era, ever since Rong Guotuan won the Men’s Singles title at the 1959 World Championships in Dortmund, there has always been a vast reservoir of players on whom to call.
It is now the same in Japan; there more young players knocking on the door of the national team than ever before. Also, my feeling is that the depth of talent in Chinese Taipei, Korea Republic and Hong Kong is also growing.
They were the national associations who occupied podium places on the fourth day of play in the Grand West Casino and Entertainment World.
There was no place for any European country; many have very promising young players but they do not have the depth of talent and perhaps are they as technically correct as the Cape Town medallists?
From Asia from the old continent, there are lessons to be learned.