21 May 2024

Amidst excitement and surprises in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 19-year-old Vladislav Ursu stunned top seeds to become the first Moldovan table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games*. Ursu clinched his ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in the men’s singles at the European Olympic Qualification Tournament held from May 14 to 18.

A total of 47 men and 44 women from 26 European nations competed over the five-day tournament. The Moldovan star defeated Hungary’s Adam Szudi 4-0 (11-9, 11-7, 11-4, 11-4) to join the elite players heading to Paris in July. “It is unbelievable. I could not believe I would make it. In Moldova, we have never had a table tennis player represent us at the Olympics, and I am so happy I am the first,” said a delighted Ursu.

Joining Ursu on the flight to Paris is legendary Greek star Panagiotis Gionis, who will compete in his sixth Olympic Games after making his debut at Athens in 2004. Gionis secured one of the two early tickets in Sarajevo after the 44-year-old dentist defeated Slovakia’s Yang Wang 4-0 (12-10, 11-5, 11-8, 14-12).

Gionis described this year’s qualification as particularly challenging. “This one in Sarajevo was the most difficult qualification tournament for me. Firstly, because of my age, and then because I had a very tough season behind me. Over the last two years, I have suffered many injuries. I was forced to stop for four months, then for five. I was out of the rankings, and my chances of being at the Olympics were very slim. I tried with the tournaments, but I couldn’t catch up,” Gionis admitted.

Polish teenager Milosz Redzimski will make his Olympic debut in Paris. The courageous youngster displayed the necessary maturity to edge out experienced Spaniard Alvaro Robles 4-1 (5-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9, 14-12).

Ukraine’s Yaroslav Zhmudenko returns to the Olympic Games after his debut at London 2012. He overpowered Slovakia’s Yang Wang 4-0 (11-6, 11-5, 11-5, 11-5). “Last night, during the big boxing match, Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury, and world champion Denys Berinchyk also won. All my family and friends told me that I could not lose. They all support me, and I support Ukraine. I dedicate this win to the people of Ukraine. It is unbelievable,” said Zhmudenko.

After missing out twice, Slovakian Wang finally secured the final ticket on the last day of qualification. In his third attempt, Wang defeated Hungarian Szudi 4-0 (11-7, 11-2, 11-8, 11-3) to secure his third appearance at the Olympic Games.

Anna Hursey and Britt Eerland will be headed to Paris after securing their spots on Day 4 of the event. Photo by A. Djorovic

In the women’s singles, 17-year-old Anna Hursey of Great Britain became the first athlete to secure a Paris ticket after defeating four-time Olympian Georgina Pota of Hungary 4-1 (11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-4). “It feels great to win this match. Last night, I woke up a few times. I was very excited. However, I did not feel so much pressure because I am still very young. Against Pota, it was important to take away the pressure from my game. I played very well,” Hursey said.

Unlike Hursey, Britt Eerland of the Netherlands secured her third appearance at the Olympic Games. The Dutch player, who recently returned from maternity leave, performed at a top level in Sarajevo, where she defeated Barbara Balazova of Slovakia 4-2 (9-11, 11-4, 9-11, 11-6, 15-13, 11-6). “Our big goal was to achieve this success. There were a lot of doubts about whether I could do it again after pregnancy. It feels like a bigger achievement now. Not so many players come back strong after pregnancy, and I am so happy. Of course, the Olympics are ahead of us, and we will see how we get there,” said Eerland.

Portugal’s duo of Jieni Shao and Fu Yu will join Eerland and Hursey in Paris after overcoming Hungarian Pota and Ukrainian Margaryta Pesotska to secure their Olympic places.

To become a three-time Olympian, Shao defeated Pota 4-1 (11-13, 11-5, 11-7, 11-4, 11-5). “I am so relieved and happy now. Last time I qualified through the rankings, and it is so difficult to play this tournament. I am also delighted that Fu Yu joined me, so we are both qualified,” said a relieved Shao.

Fu Yu faced a tough match against Ukraine’s Pesotska but ultimately prevailed 4-3 (13-15, 11-7, 11-8, 13-11, 9-11, 9-11, 12-10). “I was in the lead 3-1, then I was trailing before I came back. It was an unbelievable game, and it is too early for me to understand what happened there. Two or three times I thought I was already out, but now it is only important that I have this ticket to Paris,” said Yu.

In a story of resilience, Pesotska, who had earlier lost to Portugal’s Fu Yu, secured the final ticket in the women’s singles to qualify for her fourth Olympics. The Ukrainian defeated Hungarian Pota, who was playing her third Olympic ticket match, 4-3 (10-12, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-5, 11-5) to seal her spot in Paris. “This was the hardest one to qualify for. I played so many matches; a lot of them went to seven games,” said a delighted Pesotska.

The European Qualification Tournament in Sarajevo has set the stage for these exceptional athletes to shine at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, marking another thrilling chapter in their sporting careers.

* The participation of athletes in the Olympic Games is contingent upon their respective National Olympic Committees’ selection for representation at Paris 2024, as per their exclusive authority.

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