The name of Vladimir Samsonov appears on the entry list for the World Singles Qualification Tournament to held in Doha from Monday 14th to Wednesday 17th March.
However, in terms of longevity, is he not one step ahead of the other members?
Croatia’s Zoran Primorac, Sweden’s Jörgen Persson and Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive all made their debuts in 1988 in Seoul, they bid farewell in 2012 in London; the one other member, Nigeria’s Segun Toriola first appeared in Barcelona in 1992 when he partnered Yome Bankole in the men’s doubles, his swansong was in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, all played over a 24 year period; owing to the delay caused by the pandemic, should Vladimir Samsonov reserve his place, then he will have competed over a 25 year period. The only player to complete quarter of a century.
Unquestionably, when in years to come he sits back and relates tales of sport to his grandchildren, he can reflect on many moments of triumph but when the Olympic Games is the subject in question, it is the tournament that has caused him the greatest pain, the greatest frustration.
Similar to Jörgen Persson, Jean-Michel Saive and Segun Toriola, no place on the podium has ever been reserved; the only member of that group to gain an Olympic medal is Zoran Primorac. In Seoul, on duty for the country then known as Yugoslavia, he secured men’s doubles silver partnering Ilija Lupulesku; the duo losing to China’s Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang (20-22, 21-8, 21-9).
Vladimir Samsonov made his Olympic Games debut in 1996 in Atlanta when 20 years old, it was a time when he was approaching the peak of his career, the following year he claimed the no.1 spot on the world rankings. Staged in the Georgia Conference Centre, he experienced a last eight defeat at the hands of China’s Wang Tao, a match in which he was the victim of events beyond his control.
During the men’s singles quarter-final matches, an individual, pressed the switch that turned off all the lights in the arena. It took some 20 minutes for the lights to cool down and then return; it had an effect on the contest, Wang Tao recovered from a two games to nil deficit (16-21, 16-21, 21-10, 21-15, 21-15) to reserve a semi-final place.
Defeat in a full distance contest hurts, you think of what might have been, what could you have done differently; lose by a mile and that’s different, resignation.
Incredibly, in the next four Olympic Games, the same last game fate befell Vladimir Samsonov. In 2000 in Sydney, he was beaten in the quarter-finals by Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner, as in Atlanta after winning the opening two games (20-22, 18-21, 21-14, 21-18, 21-19); then in round four in 2004 in Athens by Hong Kong’s Leung Chu Yan (11-7, 6-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-8).
It was in the same round four years later in Beijing, he lost to Jörgen Persson (7-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-13, 11-7, 12-10, 11-9), a contest which, as eight years earlier, witnessed a break in play. A return for Vladimir Samsonov late in the sixth game either hit either the edge or side of the table, although not in the rules, all decided to replay the point.
Farwell in round four, it was same again in 2012 in London, he lost to China’s Zhang Jike but he gave the champion elect his most severe examination (4-11, 11-7, 11-5, 8-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7).
At last, at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the trend was broken; Vladimir Samsonov reached the medal round but again it was disappointment. At the semi-final stage he was beaten by Zhang Jike (11-9, 13-11, 12-10, 6-11, 11-9), before in the bronze medal contest losing to Japan’s Jun Mizutani (11-4, 11-9, 6-11, 14-12, 11-8).
Now in Doha, Vladimir Samsonov starts his quest for a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games place, a seventh appearance and in Japan’s capital city seventh heaven.