by Ian Marshall
At the election, Saive received 77 of the votes cast at the extraordinary general meeting; his one rival being Heidi Rakels, judo bronze medallist in the women’s middleweight division at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. She gained 37 votes.
“From last September I was the only candidate, Heidi registered her nomination on 8th July, two days before the deadline, it was a big surprise for everyone, me included!” Jean-Michel Saive
Belgium made an Olympic Games debut in 1900 in Paris, other than for 1904 in St Louis, has been present ever since.
In Tokyo they departed with three gold, one silver and three bronze. At first sight that may not appear a massive tally but consider the size of the country, it has a population of only just over 11 million; that’s about half the size of Beijing or São Paulo.
“Seven medals, our best since 1948, now more countries take part. We are also pleased that in Tokyo we had 26 top eight positions and seven fourth positions. Now we try all out to do even better in Paris but it’s a quite different situation to normal, Paris is less than three years away.” Jean-Michel Saive
Now 51 years old, commencing in 1988, Jean-Michel Saive competed in seven consecutive Olympic Games, in both Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004 he carried the nation’s flag at the opening ceremony; facts that underline his credibility for the post.
However, there are more good reasons for the election if we consider his table tennis career.
The task for Belgium is build on the Tokyo number, to climb the ladder. Playing table tennis, it is a task in which Jean-Michel Saive proved most successful.
Consider the situation for Belgium when he made his debut at the World Championships. It was 1983 in Tokyo; he was 13 years old. He lined up alongside Thierry Cabrera, Remo de Prophetis and Didier Leroy; the captain was André Damman.
Jean-Michel Saive played just one match. He was selected for the contest against El Salvador. Competing in division three, Belgium finished in second position behind Brazil, overall 34th place.
Led by Jean-Michel Saive, Belgium climbed through the divisions, the culmination being in 2001 in Osaka, when principally selecting younger brother Philippe and Martin Bratanov, Marc Closset and Andras Podpinka completing the squad, the second step of the podium behind China was the end result.
Step by step Belgium progressed but to move to a higher division, they had to win!
Likewise, he progressed in 1994 to occupy the top spot on the world rankings, a position he held overall for 515 days. Consider the majority all other players who have gained that distinction – China and Sweden – being prime examples, the vast majority who ascended to the very heights are from countries already in the Championship Division at a World Championships.
Again Jean-Michel Saive had to climb the ladder; it is his task now for Belgium on broader base.
An illustrious career but humble, quickly he puts those he meets at ease.
My mind always goes back to the annual Masters tournament at the Ostend Open; when play finished, alongside Philippe, he would be present for hours talking to fans. He appreciated the fact that without those who supported him, life would have been very different; he understands the need to give time, to listen and to evaluate.
Importantly, in an era of text messages and similar, vocal chords increasingly obsolete, he uses whatever method available to talk to you; talking to each other is still the best method of communication.
Moreover, don’t think of Jean-Michel Saive just as a table tennis player; he is genuinely interested in sport. He is a veritable mine of information, whether it be cycling, tennis or whatever, it is yet another facet that makes him ideal for the presidential post.
“The immediate focus is the Winter Olympic Games; we are not strong in that area; we do have a speedskater.” Jean-Michel Saive
The athlete in question is Bart Swings; he is the world record holder for 10,000 metres inline speed skating; at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, he won a silver. In 2022 in Beijing the goal is one step higher.
A new challenge awaits, as they say: allez Jean-Mi, allez Jean-Mi.