11 Jun 2020

Immense distances to travel, an area of the world where development, promoting the sport of table tennis in far flung Pacific islands has been high on the agenda; nevertheless, in recent times players from Oceania have proved most worthy adversaries on the wider international scene.

We reflect on five standout endeavours.

by Ian Marshall & Kabir Nagpal

Henzell’s silver run

A total of seven appearances in the Men’s World Cup between 2005 and 2015, the only player from Oceania to make more being the eight of Peter Jackson from 1990 to 2003; the record underlines the status of William Henzell.

Equally at the London 2012 Olympic Games, beating Hungary’s Adam Pattantyus and Portugal’s João Monteiro before losing in seven games to Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus was a most creditable performance but arguably top of the list was in 2006 on home soil.

Staged in the Melbourne Sports and Acquatic Centre, at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, in the later rounds, he overcame England’s Alan Cooke and Welshman Adam Robertson before losing to India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta in the final. He came so close, he was beaten in seven games (11-5, 8-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8).

Li  Chunli wins gold at Commonwealth Games

At the Manchrester 2002 Commonwealth Games, the results gained by Oceania brought the world’s focus on one country more than any other, thanks to 24 wins out of 26 games for Li Chunli.

The New Zealander was at her very best, she went from strength to strength beating Singapore’s Li Jia Wei (11-6, 11-9, 5-11, 11-5, 11-8 ) to claim women’s singles glory and the elusive gold medal. Also, she progressed to win women’s doubles silver with her sister Karen Li, bronze medal in the mixed doubles (with Peter Jackson) as well as earlier in the women’s team competition (with Karen Li, Tracey McLauchlan and Laura-Lee Smith).

It was the first time that table tennis had been held in the Commonwealth Games: Li Chunli is the only player from Oceania ever to win the women’s singles title. No male player has secured the counterpart men’s title.

Li Chunli enjoyed a long and distinguished career (Photo: Andrew Perryman)


Melissa Tapper at the double

Gaining increased recognition, Melissa Tapper, now 30 years old, who we first saw in a major international tournament in 2004 in Kobe at the World Junior Championships, has enjoyed a stunning run of form in the past decade.

Already qualified for the Paralympic Games; on Monday 25th March, success alongside colleague Jian Fang Lay, the player who very much sets the standard in Oceania and Fiji’s Sally Yee, meant Melissa Tapper secured her place in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The only other athlete ever to qualify for both competitions was New Zealand’s Neroli Susan Fairhall MBE. An archer, Neroli competed in the Paralympic Games in 1980 Arnhem, 1988 Seoul, 2000 Sydney and Olympic Games in 1984 in Los Angeles.

However, Melissa remains the only athlete from Oceania to participate in the Paralympic Games and Olympic Games in same year.

Melissa Tapper at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo: Richard Kalocsai)


Kyle Davis excels in Cairo

Asia dominated matters at the 2006 World Junior Championships staged in Cairo from Sunday 10th to Sunday 17th December; they secured all seven titles on offer but if one continent departed the Egyptian capital city with heads held high it was Oceania; to this day their best ever performance in the tournament that first saw the light of day in 2003 in Santiago.

Represented by Trent Carter, Kyle Davis, Robbie Frank and Wade Townsend, Australia gained a very respectable tenth place in the boys’ team event; later in the boys’ singles Kyle Davis excelled. He progressed further than any other player from Oceania has advanced ever in an individual event.

In the group stage he beat Congo Brazzaville’s Ben Kiboula Betou, Germany’s Ruwen Filus and Poland’s Daniel Bak before accounting for Ukraine’s Viktor Yefimov. The win booked a third round berth where China’s Xu Ke ended further adventures. Xu Ke concluded matters, the runner up, beaten in the final by Japan’s Kenta Matsudaira, thus denying China a clean sweep.

Meanwhile, for New Zealand, 15 year old Jenny Hung from Christchurch caught the eye. In the girls’ team event against Chinese Taipei, she beat none other than Cheng I-Ching. Fast forward to 2020 and on the women’s world rankings for April, Cheng I-Ching appears at no.8.

Full house

At the Annual General Meeting, staged in 2011 in Rotterdam; Tokelau, located in the southern Pacific Ocean halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, was officially accepted as a member of the International Table Tennis Federation.

Most significant, it meant that all possible 24 countries and territories in the continent were affiliated, a unique situation, one that continues to this day; table tennis is the only sport with a presence in every Oceania country or territory. A quite remarkable achievement; moreover the efforts of Scott Houston, currently the Chief Executive Officer for Table Tennis Australia, at the time the Development Officer for Oceania, in securing the signature of Tokelau, match any medals achieved by anyone from the southern hemisphere.

In 2010, he flew from Australia to Samoa, borrowed tables, nets and whatever from the Samoa Table Tennis Association; then travelled 54 hours by boat to Tokelau!

In 2010 Tokelau was the destination for Scott Houston (Photo: courtesy of Scott Houston)
Features Melissa Tapper Li Chunli William Henzell Scott Houston Kyle Davis