Foreigners benefit from nation's table tennis expertise

By Lin Shujuan in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-24 07:42
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Zhang coaches Geoffrey Loi, a player from Papua New Guinea. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

Soon after this encounter, Loi and his teammates visited the CTTC in Shanghai to receive training as part of their preparations for the Pacific Games in 2019, at which the Papua New Guinea table tennis team won two silver medals, the best result to date in its history.

Since then, Loi has continued to travel to the Shanghai college to be trained by Zhang and several other former world champions. In the past five years, his world ranking has risen from below 600 to about 160th.

"I'm lucky to be trained by the Chinese champions," said Loi, who is not the only foreigner to be given such an opportunity.

Regular visitor

Layan Neumann, a professional table tennis player from Mexico, has also been a regular visitor to the Shanghai center, where training sessions are taken by world and national champions such as Yan Sen and Feng Zhe, and Chen Bing, deputy dean of the CTTC and coach to world champion Ding Ning, among others.

Neumann, 23, who lives in Mexico City, had longed to come to China, where table tennis is the national sport, since he was 14, when he experienced his first major defeat — by an 11-year-old Chinese girl.

"She looked so young, and her height barely reached my shoulder," he said.

Despite being a frequent winner at international tournaments, Neumann received the same advice every time he lost: "You should go to China!"

When international borders reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic, he seized the first opportunity he could to travel to the country.

He practices three to four days a week at the CTTC, mostly with the 20 or so school-age players at the institution, who come from across the country and are aiming to excel at the sport.

Most of them are about the same age as the Chinese girl who defeated Neumann nine years ago, but some are even younger — the youngest is still 6.

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