by Olalekan Okusan
A six-time national champion, the 27 year old has a very clear goal; the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
In the beginning
I started playing table tennis because of my parents who met at a table tennis club. They both played, my brother Nicolas and sister is Michèle started playing as well, as the youngest of three, I emulated them.
After a while they stopped but I continued to play. I actually started playing tennis and soccer when I was five; table tennis started when I was eight, so maybe I could have become a professional tennis or soccer player, who knows.
Life in lockdown
The lockdown started for me right after the Oman Open. I flew back home from that competition and since then I’ve been staying in Luxembourg together with my family.
Even though the restrictions have been strict, we couldn’t go anywhere and had to stay home for seven weeks, I looked at the bright sight; it gave me the chance to enjoy this time with my family, helping around the house, finding new hobbies and just taking a break from all the travelling and busy life I usually have.
Lessons of lockdown
I started doing Yoga, which I really enjoy and I will keep on doing Yoga after going back to my ‘normal’ life.
I also used to the time to read books, which I never really did before.
Life without table tennis
I was lucky that I have a table at home and a robot that I used to work on my technique and keep the feeling but course I missed going to practise, working with my coach and playing with other people.
During the lockdown, I did physical practice every day, I have a programme from my fitness coach. Mostly work outs or running sessions but also some Yoga programmes; this helped me a lot because after the first phase of the lockdown which started 10 days ago, I really felt that I was ready to practise without any muscle pain.
Since the lockdown, the ITTF has decided to cancel or postpone every tournament until the end of July. I am curious when the Tour will start again. As a professional player, I am not used to stay this long in the same place, with or without practice.
Life after COVID-19
Hmm, I think this is a difficult question to answer.
I can imagine that people will be a little more careful in the future. For example I think it would be good to follow the Asian habit to wear a mask when feeling a little sick, to avoid spreading it to others, not necessarily speaking about Covid-19, but in general. Before, many people have never worn a mask in their life, now we all have done it.
I think this time has been very useful to learn new things about ourselves. Also, I hope that after this time, people will appreciate the small things in life and don’t take anything for granted.
The restrictions in Luxembourg are a little less strict since 4th May; since then I am allowed to go practise at the national centre but of course there are many rules to follow. Since Monday 11th, we are allowed to meet in a very small group of people, still under strict rules and distance, so I have met my best friends, which was very nice to see them, not only over video call.
Table tennis impact
Table tennis has of course impacted my life a lot. I am very happy that I decided to go pro after finishing high school. I joined the army to become a professional table tennis player. I learnt lot during recent years, I have travelled around the world, met people from everywhere.
Not everyone has this chance, so I’m grateful for that.
In table tennis, I have learnt that it is always worthwhile to follow your dreams and to fight for what you believe is good and what makes sense to you. It doesn’t matter what other people say or think, there will always be people who don’t agree with you or your decisions but it should never discourage you.
Rituals before major matches
I think every player has a different habit preparing for matches but I don’t make a difference preparing for major matches or regular matches because I think you should have the same preparation and mindset if you play against Ding Ning or against World Number 250.
I usually do the same two exercises during the warming up, I only change small details, depending on the style my opponent has and some service returns that I think can work in the upcoming match.
Postponement of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
I think since the pandemic started to spread around the whole world, it was getting clearer everyday that the Olympic Games had to be postponed. It would have been irresponsible and impossible not to do so given the situation. I also first of all need to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
I have never been to the Olympic Games yet, but of course the Olympics is a very special tournament, it is held only every four years and the champion will be stay for a long time, which makes it so unique. I think there is no other competition that a table tennis player would rather like to compete in.
Playing alongside Ni Xia Lian
I think it is a great honour to play together with Ni Xia Lian in the team for so many years. We have played doubles for a long time now. A great memory was when we won the bronze medal at the European Championships together.
Of course it has helped me a lot over the years, especially in the team events and during the doubles we speak a lot about our opponents, the tactics to use, the strengths and weakness they have.
She asks me sometimes what I think, so it is very nice to have this kind of relationship. She has helped me a lot with her experience and in life also of course. So I am happy that she is still playing and we can keep playing together.
It is difficult for me to say who inspired me the most, I don’t have one example that I followed and of whom I was a huge fan, so I can’t name anyone specific but of course I always looked at the best players around on the Tour and took something from them, try to learn something by watching them play.
I really enjoy watching good movies and since I have discovered Yoga, I think it will be something I will always do whenever I feel I need to relax.
I also enjoy going to the sauna with my best friend.
Tips for young players
Follow the dreams you have, don’t listen to the people who do not want the best for you and always work hard towards your goals.