23 Apr 2020

Today, Wednesday 22nd April is the birthday of Sweden’s Jörgen Persson, celebration time but the biggest celebration for the now 54 year old, born in Halmstad, came just over two weeks after he had marked his 25th birthday.

On Sunday 7th May 1991 he won the men’s singles title at the World Championships in Chiba, Japan.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

The win was a repeat of his first success of note on the international scene; on Sunday 17th August 1980, when only 14 years old, he beat colleague Jan-Ove Waldner in the final of the cadet boys’ singles event at the European Youth Championships in the Polish city of Poznan.

In Chiba, Jan-Ove Waldner was the player he overcame to secure the top step of the podium. Moreover, he laid the ghosts of Dortmund to rest; two years earlier he had been beaten by his illustrious compatriot in the final.

Jan-Ove Waldner hold Jörgen Persson aloft after the men’s singles final in Chiba (Photo: the late Zdenko Uzorinac)


Jörgen Persson remembers…

“Losing in the final of the men’s singles at the World Championships in Dortmund in 1989 was a tremendous disappointment. It was the only singles match that I lost in the whole tournament. I had played 22 matches in the team event, a further six in the singles and I had won every match. Reaching the final of a World Championships may only happen once in your lifetime and when you lose such a match, you wonder if you will ever have another chance; thankfully I did.

The second chance came two years later in 1991 when both Jan-Ove Waldner and myself reached the final in Chiba. Before the final in 1989 both Waldi and myself had practised together; however, I took may father’s advice. He told me that even though your final opponent may be a great friend and member of the your team, you should not practise with a player who you are going to play against immediately prior to a match as important as the World Championships.

Waldi wanted to practise with me but I took my father’s advice and I declined the request. The advice was good.

I won the match in straight games, in 1989 Waldi had won the first two games, I had fought back to level the match but he won the fifth. In Chiba I was always in the lead. We know each other so well and I thought that I would be the more nervous player but I was very calm during the match. Waldi was the defending champion and I felt he was more nervous than me. It was the opposite of what I expected.

It’s a day I’ll never forget, Sunday 7th May 1991; the Swedish coaches did a great job. Anders Thunström was the head coach and he followed Waldi, my coach was former world champion, Stellan Bengtsson. Obviously in the final we had no coaching but much of the success at the championships can be attributed to their efforts.

I was crowned world champion and was part of a very good weekend for Sweden. Carola Haggvist won the Eurovision Song Contest, the Swedish pop group Roxette had just moved to number one on the American charts with “Joy Ride” and I had think Sweden had just won the ice hockey world championships.

World champion; that’s as good as it gets.”

Delight for Jörgen Persson, the 1991 world champion (Photo: the late Zdenko Uzorinac)


European domination

Success for Jörgen Persson, an era in which European men where dominant, a fact that is reflected in his path to victory. Matches best of five games, each game to 21 points; in the fourth round he had to recover from a two games to one deficit against Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive, one round later he did the same in opposition to Poland’s Andrzej Grubba.

  • Round One: beat Wang Yongyang (China) 21-19, 22-20, 21-19
  • Round Two: beat Kim Myongjun (Korea Republic) 21-15, 23-21, 21-17
  • Round Three: beat Georg Zsolt-Böhm (Germany) 21-17, 19-21, 21-16, 21-16
  • Round Four: beat Jean-Michel Saive (Belgium) 21-17, 18-21, 12-21, 21-14, 21-18
  • Quarter-Final: beat Andrzej Grubba (Poland) 15-21, 21-19, 19-21, 21-18, 21-16
  • Semi-Final: beat Kim Taeksoo (Korea Republic) 21-12, 22-20, 21-18
  • Final: beat Jan-Ove Waldner (Sweden) 21-19, 21-18, 21-18
European players caused Jörgen Persson the most problems on his way to the final (Photo: Butterfly)


Our opportunity

The win added to his collection of gold medals at World Championships. In 1989 Jörgen Persson had lined up alongside Mikael Appelgren and Jan-Ove Waldner in the men’s team event; in the final the trio recorded a quite sensational 5-0 win again the Chinese outfit of Chen Longcan, Jiang Jialiang and Teng Yi.

Moreover, it ended the run of Chinese, success; they had won on the immediate four previous occasions, notably on the most recent three, in 1983 in Tokyo, 1985 in Gothenburg and 1987 in New Delhi beating Sweden in the final.

Jörgen Persson recall the occasion…

The atmosphere, the fans some 8,000 or more, it was a fantastic feeling; all three of us had been playing that year in the German Bundesliga, so we had the crowd’s support.

It was our opportunity. In 1983, 1985 and 1987 Sweden had lost in each final to China, in those finals we had won just one individual match! We won the important matches, we won 5-0 but the first four matches all went the full three games.

Appelgren gave us a great start by beating Jiang Jialiang; then Waldner beat Teng Yi; I had to play Chen Longcan, if I could win we would be 3-0 up and difficult for China to recover; if it was 2-1 then they could come back. Chen Longcan, his team losing, was under more pressure than me. Simply we just knew it was a great opportunity.

Trademark Persson, the expansive backhand on the run (Photo: Gennaro Bozza)


Swedish hero

Gold for Jörgen Persson, he added to the collection in the men’s team event at the 1993 World Championships in Gothenburg and then incredibly he was hero of the hour when a team, thought by many to be over the hill, beat China 3-2 in the final in 2000 in Kuala Lumpur.

On both occasions he was selected alongside Jan-Ove Waldner and Peter Karlsson. Memorably in Kuala Lumpur he beat both Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang, a city for which he had a special affinity, soon after his win in Chiba in 1991, in the Malaysian capital city he secured the Men’s World Cup title.

One can add, six men’s team and two men’s doubles titles at the European Championships but the success at the continental event that stands out is 1986 in Prague. He won the men’s singles title when only 19 years old; he success on Sunday 13th April, nine days before his birthday.

Alas, an Olympic medal never came his way; one wonders how different it might have been if team events had been held prior to 2008 in Beijing. Twice he finished in the most heartbreaking position of all. In 2000 in Sydney he was beaten in the bronze medal men’s singles match by Liu Guoliang, in 2008 in Beijing by Wang Liqin.

An agonising fourth place at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (Photo: Provas Mondal)


Illustrious clubs

However, he does belong to illustrious clubs, alongside Zoran Primorac, Jean-Michel Saive and Segun Toriola, he is the only player to date to compete in the table tennis events in seven Olympic Games.

Also, by beating Jan-Ove Waldner in the Chiba final, he is one of only three players to have won the men’s singles title at the World Championships by beating the player against whom they had lost in the immediately preceding final. The striking factor is that it always involved a fellow member of their national team!

In an all Hungarian affair in 1931 in Budapest, in the final, Victor Barna lost to Miklos Szabados, the following year in Prague, Victor Barna reversed the decision. Defeat avenged, it was the same for Toshiaki Tanaka. In 1956 in Tokyo he was beaten in the final by Ichiro Ogimura, one year later in Stockholm they met again. Toshiaki Tanaka prevailed.

Jörgen Persson at the 1999 World Championships in Eindhoven (Photo: Monthly World Table Tennis)


Stands alone

World champion and remember, Jörgen Persson is a reigning World champion; in 2018 in Las Vegas, he won the men’s singles 50-54 years class at the World Veteran Championships. In that achievement, he stands alone!

In Las Vegas, he played in the same manner as when four decades earlier he had won in Poznan; always upholding the highest principles of a sport, a true legend.

Happy birthday Jörgen Persson!

Jörgen Persson at the 2018 World Veteran Championships, the men’s singles 50-54 years winner (Photo: Mike Rhodes)
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