23 May 2020

Time flies, the past decade has flown by; ten years of intense competition in the arenas of the world, ten years of performances that have attracted the attention, caught the eye and enchanted those watching whether present in the stadium or by whatever modern day means available.

Most notably, European players have made their presence felt.

by Kabir Nagpal

Dima’s Olympic glory

At the London 2012 Olympic Games, few names were as prominent as that of Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

Having lost to China’s Zhang Jike at the semi-final stage, he defeated Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan to claim the bronze medal in the men’s singles event. Four years earlier he had won men’s team silver in Beijing, later in London he secured men’s team bronze as he did in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

It was a second ever Olympic Games men’s singles medal for Germany. Earlier, Jörg Rosskopf had concluded matters on the third step of the podium in 1996 in Atlanta.

Kelly van Zon’s double gold at the Paralympics

It is one thing to create a moment of magic at one Paralympic Games – but it takes someone very special to do it twice. Netherlands’ Kelly van Zon displayed her unique class and athleticism across two editions of the Paralympics  – first in London 2012, and then in Rio 2016.

Kelly’s two golds came at completely opposite times in her career. She defeated Russia’s Yulia Ovsyannikova in London, at the time world no. 101 women’s singles class 7. The gold saw her break into the scene of Para table tennis before going on to win multiple World Championships. In that journey, she claimed the world no.1 ranking at the time of the Rio 2016 Paralympics, where she went on to heroically beat Turkish opponent Kobra Korkut and successfully defend her class 7 title.

Kelly Van Zon of Netherlands competes against Yulia Ovsyannikova of Russia in the Women’s Singles Table Tennis – Class 7
Bayley jumps with Paralympic joy

Probably one of the most memorable moments at any Paralympic Games, the 2016 Rio edition, saw Will Bayley win his first ever Paralympic gold medal after defeating the host nation’s Israel Stroh – to whom he had previously lost in the group! Immediately after winning the men’s singles class 7 final, he jumped on the table and duly received a yellow card!

A virulent cancer survivor since the age of seven, Will Bayley suffers from arthrogryposis, a debilitating congentinal muscle wasting condition which he has had from birth and which has affected his four limbs, Will Bayley completed the impossible to claim Great Britain’s overall 24th gold medal of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. There was no way he was not going to jump onto the table and celebrate, raising his arms aloft and saluting the arena as if he were a gladiator. There were tears, inconsolable – a moment which now has a special place in history.

A true gladiator, Will Bayley.
Solja’s 2015 Women’s World Cup run

After beating fifth seed from Singapore, Feng Tianwei in the first round of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, not many expected more from Germany’s Petrissa Solja. Boy were they wrong.

Playing at the Xebio Arena, the then 21-year-old went on to defeat Japan’s Ai Fukuhara to secure her place in the semi-finals. She lost to Liu Shiwen at the penultimate stage, Solja was not one to give up on a worthy bronze, as she saw off Netherlands’ veteran Li Jiao in the third place match.

Truls Möregard’s silver-finish

The youngster from Sweden has brought warmth to the Nordic nations fans on many occasions, none more than winning boys’ singles silver at both the 2017 and 2019 World Junior Championships category.

On both occasions, Möregard lost to Chinese opposition – first to Xue Fei in 2017, and then Xiang Peng in 2019. However, this was not before the Swedish prodigy showcased his own spectacular style against other Asian opponents, like beating Chinese Taipei’s Feng Yi-Hsin, an athlete known for his splendid pace.

Möregard has repeatedly shown his talent. He faces Asian athletes with calm, and is expected to trouble them even more in the coming times.

Partyka’s non-stop medal hunt

For a woman born without a right hand and forearm, Poland’s Natalia Partyka has given European table tennis so many glorious moments.

Playing in the women’s class 10 in Rio de Janeiro, Partyka enjoyed a remarkable fourth consecutive Paralympic singles gold medal. She defeated China’s Yang Qian 3-0 in the final.

Later partnering Karolina Pek and Katarzyna Marszal she won gold in women’s team class 6-10.

Falck’s final frontier

The Liebherr 2019 World Championships were remembered for many moments, none more so than for Mattias Falck’s amazing run to the final of the men’s singles event.

Despite having what many called a ‘favourable draw’, Falck still had to complete the task against players listed amongst the best in the world, beating the likes of Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu on the road to the final, Falck re-wrote history for Europe.

Even in the final, his favoured backhand caused China’s Ma Long – arguably the greatest player of the current generation – more than food for thought! It was not a one sided final,and European Mattias Falck proved himself more than a worthy opponent against the best player on planet earth.

Germany’s Women’s Team podium finish in 2010

The 2010 World Team Championships saw Germany’s women’s team claim an exciting bronze medal, after a splendid run in the tournament.

The German roster comprised of Wu Jiaduo, Kristin Silbereisen, Elke Schall and Sabine Winter – all of whom were critical in a campaign where they defeated the likes of Romania and Hong Kong China prior to meeting Singapore in a heated semi-final. It was a huge moment for European table tennis as the podium was too often occupied by only Asian teams – and this brought about a sea change in that.

Elizabeta Samara’s brave effort at the 2012 Women’s World World Cup

The record remains to this day, Romania’s Elizabeta Samara is the only European ever to reach the final of the Women’s World Cup. She achieved the feat in 2012 in Hangzhou when she defeated Spain’s Shen Yanfei in the semi-finals.

Samara did not have an easy ride to podium though. The semi-final itself saw her lose the opening game. She needed her to steel herself for a barrage of attacking play by her co-European colleague. The match was a huge moment for European table tennis, bringing the focus on two athletes involved in dazzling rallies. In the final, Samara came up against China’s Liu Shiwen who, despite beat Samara in straight games.

Germany’s Women’s Team silver in Rio

If you thought the 2010 moment was big for Germany, you have no idea what the Rio 2016 Olympics did for the fans of the women’s team.

The 2016 Olympic Games saw Germany become the first European country to reach the final of the women’s team event in table tennis. A historic Olympic journey over eight years showed just how far the German setup helped develop a team capable of getting to the very summit in sport. Regardless of their loss against Team China in the final, Han Ying, Petrissa Solja and Shan Xiaona left Rio 2016 as national heroes.

A moment of magic!(Photo: Rémy Gros)