07 Nov 2019

Third place in the group behind Chinese Taipei and Romania, national associations with long established traditions of excellence; such was the end result on Thursday 7th November for Vanuatu at the ZEN-NOH 2019 World Team Cup in Tokyo.

Nevertheless for Anolyn Lulu, Priscila Tommy and Stephanie Qwea, the adventure was a major landmark, a moment of history; they became the first players from the South Pacific island country to compete in an ITTF World title tournament.

by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF-Africa Press Officer

Vanuatu secured a place in Tokyo following the withdrawal of Australia, the reigning Oceania champions; an opportunity arose which was not to be missed.

“I think attending this competition has again showed that popularity in table tennis in our country will continue to grow. I have been playing table tennis for more than two decades and this is the first time I have participated in a world title tournament; getting to Tokyo has again reaffirmed my belief that we can compete at top level.” Anolyn Lulu

Simply being present in Tokyo and in a country known for table tennis excellence is a major boost, a motivating force for Vanuatu.

“I cannot tell you how I felt when I got a mail from ITTF in September that we had been selected as the replacement for Australia to compete at the ITTF Team World Cup. We could not imagine this but we celebrated; we were eager to be in Tokyo. Now that we are here, we have met and seen some of the great stars we have been hearing about, this has given us hope that the future of table tennis in Vanuatu is secured as we just need to continue to work hard.” Anolyn Lulu

An occasion to remember for Stephanie Qwea (Photo: Rémy Gros)

An occasion to remember but Anolyn Lulu is no stranger to the big stage; she was present at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in an official’s role and at the London 2012 Olympic Games as a player, she competed in the women’s singles event.

“Priscilla Tommy qualified for the Olympic Games in 2008 and I was her manager at the tournament. It motivated me to aim to attend the Olympics as an athlete; this came to pass in 2012 when myself and Yoshua Shing qualified for the Olympic Games in London. So for now, table tennis has produced three Olympians for Vanuatu.” Anolyn Lulu

In Tokyo, Vanuatu has very much been a minnow; however in their region of the world, it is quite different. Earlier this year at the Pacific Games, Vanuatu in Samoa, Vanuatu won five gold medals and one silver.

“I think the breakthrough for table tennis in Vanuatu came in 2003 when as a team we won the gold medal at the Pacific Games in Fiji. This has been a major attraction to the sport. Now table tennis is part of the School National Games as well as National Games in Vanuatu and this has encouraged many people to start embracing the sport.” Anolyn Lulu

Olympiians, Priscilla Tommy (left) and (right) Anolyn Lulu (Photo: Rémy Gros)
Underlying reason

Success and is there an underlying reason for the success? Can one of the reasons for the success can be attributed to the help received from a nation that has a rather good record in the sport of table tennis.

“I think we have benefitted from the generosity of the Chinese government when a partnership agreement was signed in 1987, the Chinese Table Tennis Association sent coaches and equipment Vanuatu every two years. Also the support from ITTF Oceania has also been helpful in terms of equipment.” Anolyn Lulu

No question Anolyn Lulu is dedicated to the sport of table tennis and to raising the profile of Vanuatu; conversely she is grateful for the opportunities afforded.

“Table tennis has paved way for me in life because it was through the sport that I was employed as Development Officer by Vanuatu Table Tennis Federation and it was through the sport that I am now working with the Vanuatu Olympic Committee. So what I cannot achieve in other areas, table tennis has given me and I hope more players will come through the sport.” Anolyn Lulu

Realistic and appreciative; for Vanuatu, the ZEN-NOH 2019 Team World Cup may not have produced the medal haul experienced at the Pacific Games but without doubt it has lifted the island nation, better for the experience.

Vanuatu, enjoying the moment (left to right) Stephanie Qwea, Anolyn Lulu and Priscila Tommy (Photo: courtesy of Local Organising Committee)
World Cup 2019 ZEN-NOH Team World Cup Stephanie Qwea Priscila Tommy Anolyn Lulu Vanuatu

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Day 5 - ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF Team World Cup