by Ian Marshall & Kabir Nagpal
It is a recent change. Orginally Eugene Wang was the men’s singles selection having beaten Jeremy Hazin in the final in Kitchener. However he decided to step down in favour of the younger player and focus just on the mixed doubles.
Present next year in the Japanese capital city, Canada was also represented on the very first occasion when table tennis was staged in the quadrennial event.
Gideon Joe Ng was on men’s singles duty and Mariann Domonkos in women’s singles action. Notably in 1979 in San Juan Puerto Rico, the first time table tennis was held in the Pan American Games, Mariann Domonkos completed a clean sweep of titles. She won the women’s singles, partnered Birute Plucas to women’s team and women’s doubles gold, in addition to joining forces with Alex Polisois to secure mixed doubles gold.
Also, Alex Polisois partnered colleague Eddie Lo, the men’s singles winner to men’s doubles success.
It is a tournament in which Canada has enjoyed success but in the wider spectrum two names very much stand out; those of Johnny Huang and Geng Lijuan.
Both able to compete with the very best, Johnny Huang was a right handed shake hands grip player who used short pimpled rubber on each side of the racket.
Significantly, he won the men’s singles title at the Commonwealth Championships in Nairobi, 1991 and Hyderabad, 1994. Moreover, he prevailed at the North American Championships on eight occasions. He succeeded in 1995 in South Bend and 1999 in Fort Lauderdale as well as in 1992 in Ste Hyacinthe, 1993 in Augusta, 2002 in Edmonton and finally 2003 in San Diego.
The double Olympian from 1996 and 2000 was also a 10 times Men’s World Cup participant, winning bronze medal in 1993 Guangzhou.
A player of world class, having in 1996 led the men’s singles standings on the ITTF World Tour for several months, the same accolade may be applied to Geng Lijuan.
Similar to Johnny Huang, her skills were honed in China, before moving to Canada. At the World Championships in 1983 in Tokyo and two years later in Gothenburg she secured women’s team gold. Also in Gothenburg she partnered Dai Lili to women’s doubles success, before emulating the feat in 1987 in New Delhi when partnering Hui Jun in the mixed doubles.
Representing Canada, she won the women’s singles gold at the 1985 Pan American Games held in Mar del Plata, before progressing to secure a fourth place finish at the Women’s World Cup in Shanghai, 1997. A year prior she made one of her two Olympic Games appearances, as well as claiming women’s doubles gold with Barbara Chen at the 1996 ITTF World Tour United States Open.
Meanwhile in the modern era eyes very much focus on Eugene Wang and Zhang Mo.
The men’s singles winner at the 2013 ITTF World Tour United States Open in Las Vegas, in Tokyo, Eugene Wang will be making his third appearance in the Olympic Games; he competed in the men’s team event in 2012 in London, in the men’s singles in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
A third appearance for Eugene Wang, Tokyo will be a fourth for Zhang Mo, gold medallist at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara; she made her debut in 2008 in Beijing and in the women’s singles competition, she has been present ever since that date.
Next in line
Now the question posed is who can follow in illustrious footsteps: is 20 year old Jeremy Hazin, the prime candidate?
In junior days, in particular he impressed at the 2017 Pan American Junior Championships securing boys’ singles, boys’ doubles and mixed doubles bronze.
Impressive but arguably more impressive earlier this year.
At the Universal 2020 Pan American Cup, he emerged the player to give the champion elect, Hugo Calderano, the toughest test of all. He extended the Brazilian to six games, no other player secured more than one; alas for Jeremy Hazin the contest was in the opening round.