by Ian Marshall & Kabir Nagpal
Born in Wenzhou, China on Tuesday 6th March 1973, she moved to Melbourne in the early 1990s, having developed her skills in an age when long pimpled rubber and anti-spin rubber were appearing on the scene.
Ten years after her move, she represented Australia was at the Women’s World Cup in Phnom Penh.
In her formative tears in China, the pen-hold grip was favoured. It meant that Lay brought that talent with her Down Under. Female athletes were using reversed and long pimples, black on both sides of the racket, twiddling in the hand adopting a blocking style which was popular to say the least.
Notably Gao Jun, Chen Zihe, Ni Xialian enjoyed great success using these techniques; Jian Fang Lay followed suit. It is a style that requires minimal movement; this, and her utmost talent and resilience, are the reasons for her being an effective opponent even now in the twilight of her career.
Regular at the Grand Stages
For Lay, the grand stages of the Olympic Games are home like no other, as she has represented Australia at the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 events.
The event in Tokyo next year is set to be her sixth Olympic Games, as she will be behind only Nigeria’s Olufunke Oshonaike – who has seven appearances!
Notably, the current achievement was realised alongside Michelle Bromley and Melissa Tapper when the team emerged successful at the Oceania Team Qualification tournament for the Tokyo Olympic Games. In Sydney 2000 she only played women’s doubles where partnered Stella Zhou, but in all other Olympic Games she has played women’s singles.
One of her biggest moments at the Olympic Games came at the Rio 2016 event, when she made the third round of play, equalling Australia’s best table tennis result at an Olympics, matching the 2012 London achievement of William Henzell. Then world no.128, Lay went down fighting to Singapore’s Yu Mengyu (9-11 9-11 6-11 10-12) in match where the score only told half the story.
“I have lost to Yu two times before, including the last game in Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014. She’s very tough but I tried my best.” Jian Fang Lay
Moments of Glory
Since the event in 2000 at Phnom Penh, she has played in eight Women’s World Cup tournaments, with the most recent in 2019 at Chengdu, China.
Memorably, at the 2018 Uncle Pop 2018 ITTF Women’s World Cup, Lay qualified for the second stage at a Women’s World Cup for the first time in what was her seventh attempt. In fact it was only the second match in a total of 17 contests that she had won at the World Cup – her only prior victory coming against Nigeria’s Olufunke Oshonaike on her debut!
It made her only the second player from Oceania to progress to the main draw and to secure first place in her group in the history of the competition, which started in 1996 in Hong Kong, the other contestant from Oceania being New Zealand’s Li Chunli.
Her other significant moments of glory have been at the Commonwealth Games and Oceania Championships. The 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast saw her reach the quarter-finals of the women’s singles event, where she lost to Canada’s Zhang Mo (11-2, 11-2, 11-5, 11-6).
The elusive gold for her in the women’s singles was finally achieved at the 2002 Oceania Championships in Suva for the first time. before she repeated the feat in Bendigo in 2014 and then again in 2016. Her past few years have seen her win the Oceania Cup on the three occasions, 2017 in Suva, 2018 in Port Vila and 2019 in Bora Bora – all of which were major points where the competition was considered ‘too difficult’ for the veteran.
At the end of the day, Jian Fang Lay is here to stay and continue to be the one to beat – her age is not a liability, but her greatest strength,