20 Nov 2019

A quarter-final finish was the end result in both disciplines for the United States earlier this month at the ZEN-HOH 2019 Team World Cup in Tokyo, proceedings eventually concluding on Sunday 8th November.

Commencing play the no.11 seeds, the men’s team comprising Kanak Jha, Feng Yijin and Zhang Kai exceeded expectations; the women’s outfit formed by Amy Wang, Wu Yue and Lily Zhang more than justified their no.7 seeded spot.

by Amy Ding

Gao Jun, the national coach gave her reactions.

ITTF: A big congrats to Team USA. Both men’s and women’s teams qualified for the quarter-finals. First could you please summarise the performance?

Gao Jun: Last year the women’s team also made it into quarter-finals, our overall strength is far from enough to be sure we could secure this result; this time, the way we adapted and the team spirit helped us reach the top eight.

Talking about the women’s team first; currently both Lily and Wu Yue are playing in leagues in Germany. We all know you have to play professionally to get good results. To be professional means you have to practise every day. The American players were located in different places. They all practised alone. Nowadays, young players are all willing to try to play in leagues in Europe.

For the men’s team, the number one player Kanak played really well. The other two players also played well. You have to win three matches to win; so every player needs to contribute to the team. As the coach, I feel so happy to see my players united together and fight hard.

ITTF: You mentioned about the joint training between Team China and Team USA. How did this joint training affect Team USA?

Gao Jun: Lily, Wu Yue and Amy all got the chance to train together with Team China for nearly one month. After the training camp, they all spoke to me “it is totally different”. I think what differs is the quality and attitude of Chinese players’ training; the professionalism of their coaches. It is like they throw a big stone into our peaceful lake. Our players all cherished this opportunity to train together with Team China and they very much looked forward to seeing who they were going to train with every day.

I asked the players “what did you learn from Team China”? The perfect detail focused approached impressed them a lot. Unlike Americans or Europeans, Chinese players address every small detail. They do not want to lose even it is just a training session. Under such big pressure, Chinese players can win; it underlines their strength.

ITTF: We all know you were one of the greatest pen-hold grip players. You represented China and the United States. Do you have the feeling that after this joint training, the young USA players will start more to understand what you teach them?

Gao Jun: Sure. I used to share with them my experience in the Chinese national team; it’s an experience they did not have, they did not experience it so they did not understand. Now, this time they got the chance to witness how Team China operates. They got to know the coach would give tasks to players before the training and the coach would summarize the performance after the training. In the USA, most of players leave earlier than coaches.

ITTF: What do think is the status of table tennis in the USA?

Gao Jun: Table tennis is still not the mainstream in USA. There are lots of people who have no idea about table tennis. People would say nothing is more important than participation. For us who committed ourselves to this sport, of course we want to win medals in major tournaments. It is the same for the USA Olympic Committee. They will not fund you if they think you did not have too much chance to win medals; it is the same for the potential sponsors.

Lily Zhang did pretty well in the Women’s World Cup. She got the fourth place, just one more step to get a medal. It has already encouraged all the American players. She got a lot of media exposure as well. If one day Team USA could win a medal at a World Championships or even at the Olympics, for sure the USA Olympic Committee will give us more attention and then table tennis is more likely to become mainstream here in USA.

Today Lily talked to me “Coach Gao, if you could organise for me to play mixed doubles with Xu Xin just like Xu Xin paired with Korea’s Yang Hauen, then I would practise every day”. Then I answered here “You need to be good enough to play with Xu Xin. Go back and practise your serve first.” Lily is a very funny girl. She said “I was planning to retire after the Olympics but if you can help talk to Team China, and give me a chance to play mixed doubles or women’s doubles then I will continue playing.”

ITTF: Actually ITTF also focuses a great deal on the development of table tennis in USA. Three powers, ITTF, CTTA and USATTA, together can boost the development.

Gao Jun: If ITTF, CTTA and USATTA want to create a champion, I think Lily and Kanak both are good choices. If Team China can bring these two kids to get a medal at the 2021 World Championships, it will surely boost the development of table tennis in the USA. It helps a lot. I am very looking forward to that day.

ITTF: You went to the USA in 1994. More than 20 years passed, did you feel that in the USA there are more and more children playing table tennis?

Gao Jun: Much much more. At the end of 1990s, there were only nine players in the selection for the national team, including two kids. By saying kids, I mean under 18 years old. Now in 2019, we have more than 100 boys and 40 girls playing at the National Championships. Unlike the Chinese National Championships, our Championships is more like entertainment. However from nine to hundreds, this is a big change.

ITTF: We are sure that the situation will be better after 2021 World Championships.

Gao Jun: If we do well in media promotion after the Tokyo Olympics and 2021 World Championships, I am sure table tennis will get good support.


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