by Simon Daish
Kou Lei was born in Beijing, China in 1987 but went on to move abroad at a later date. Representing his adoptive country of Ukraine, Kou Lei participated at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games but a defeat to Congo Brazzaville’s Suraju Saka resulted in a preliminary round exit from the event.
No appearance was made by Kou Lei four years later at London 2012, but the Ukraine representative did feature at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where he picked up victories over Egypt’s Omar Assar and Frenchman Simon Gauzy before making his eventual exit in the Round of 16 to Marcos Freitas of Portugal.
Making his Europe Top 16 debut in Antibes last week Kou Lei outperformed many people’s expectations with the no.14 seed defeating Emmanuel Lebesson and Vladimir Samsonov in the group stage, before going on to pull off a seven games triumph over Andrej Gacina (11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 9-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-6) in the last eight.
Then Kou Lei recovered from three games down to draw level with top seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the semi-finals, but despite his brave effort the Ukraine player was unable to complete the job (11-8, 11-9, 11-8, 10-12, 3-11, 2-11, 11-6) and Ovtcharov eventually moved on to win the title.
With the top three finishes of the competition booking their invitations for the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup in Liege, Belgium the battle for the final step of the podium was a crucial encounter. Rather disappointingly for Kou Lei a 0-4 defeat to Simon Gauzy saw the 28-year-old miss out on the podium but, regardless of that result, Kou can still feel proud of his efforts in Antibes.
Kou Lei has shown in recent years that he has what is takes to compete with some of the world’s finest table tennis players, and at the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan the Ukraine competitor demonstrated his capabilities to the continent.
Success against Constantin Cioti, Panagiotis Gionis, Stefan Fegerl and Liam Pitchford saw the unseeded Kou Lei reach the semi-finals of the inaugural European Games and, while a defeat to Vladimir Samsonov followed, the representative from Ukraine finished on the third step of the medals podium after he overcame Great Britain’s Paul Drinkhall in six games.
“The question mark over Kou Lei, now 28 years old, is to whether he can climb the next step. At the Baku 2015 European Games he was a bronze medallist, at both the Qoros 2015 World Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games he reached the last 16 of the Men’s Singles event; there is nothing wrong with his technical skills but does he need to be mentally tougher?”, Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor.
2017 is a very important year for table tennis on the international scene with the Liebherr 2017 World Championships set to be hosted in Düsseldorf between Monday 29th May and Sunday 5th June, and the question to be asked of Kou Lei is whether he can display his best form at the tournament and further demonstrate his ability, not only to the continent but to the world?