TABLE TENNIS: One veteran and five debutant table tennis players began their Rio Olympic campaign on Monday, trying out the official competition venue for the first time.
It is an exciting time for the impressive team of individual characters, who are all excited about the opportunity to cause an upset at Riocentro 3 from Day 1 (August 6) of the Games.
Head coach Jens Lang said the adventure for the predominantly rookie team began last week when they completed a staging camp.
“We went to Chile for five days just to get adjusted to the time zone because it can pretty much put the body inside out,” Lang said.
“It was really good, we had a really effective training camp on site.
“By nature table tennis is an individual sport… I’m a strong believer in team spirit and that every person as an individual will perform better if they are part of something bigger.”
This year marks a significant achievement for two members of the team: Jian Fang Lay, 43, will become only the second Australian woman to compete at five Olympic Games (the other being Natalie Cook of beach volleyball) while Melissa Tapper is the first Australian to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tapper, 26, of Melbourne, is excited at the opportunity ahead and has proven her form finishing second in the 2016 Oceania Championships and Oceania Olympic Qualification Tournament behind teammate Fang Lay.
Preparing for both Games simultaneously has been a benefit and a challenge to Tapper, but she feels ready to fight now.
“It has definitely been a learning curve I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said.
“I’ve got a really good team around me everyone has prepared me as best possible. I feel fresh, my body feels great, my head feels good so now it’s just approaching the next few days leading in just feeling good, play the best I can and then go home to prepare for the Paralympics.”
Tapper, Fang Lay and teammate Sally Zhang were among the Australian women’s team to claim bronze at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Now they want to add Olympic success to their catalogue of experience.
“The Olympics are another scale bigger again. That was a fantastic experience that our whole team had in Glasgow, I just hope that our team has as great a time as we did in Glasgow and we work really well together,” Tapper said.
“No matter what I just think that if we work hard together we’ll just get some good results. We hope for a few wins but I think that at the end of the day if we just fight hard together that will be really good.”
Among the men, Australia’s highest ranked athlete Chris Yan will join Heming Hu and David Powell in competition.
However as the veteran of the team Fang Lay has taken on the unofficial role of leader.
“It really helps because the other five are all debutants and they can all really learn from (Jian’s) experience,” coach Lang said.
“Of course she’s still excited but she’s been here and done that a number of times so in terms of pre and post-match preparation she has a bit of experience.”