The top ten table tennis players in the world are very, very good at what they do. The gold, silver, and bronze medalists for table tennis at the Olympics the past 20 years are all from China, and it’s going to take a Herculean effort this year from American Kanak Jha to even get on the podium as a bronze winner. It’s going to be an uphill battle, there’s no doubt about it.
But he made a huge step in getting there last week at the U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas. Jha continued his domination of table tennis in America this week, taking down Yijun Feng for the senior title in Men’s singles. Jha is the youngest men’s national champion since 2009, and I know I said last week that he might not be ready to take on the likes of Hao Wang or Guoliang Liu, both previous gold medal winners. I know I said that Kanak would more than likely fold when the bright lights are on him next month, but my xenophobia cannot be contained any longer. I’m taking this kid all the way in my bracket and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Table tennis has been a part of the Olympic games since 1988, and Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner remains the only non-Asian player to have won an Olympic gold medal in the sport. Four years ago in London, China took 24 of the 28 gold medals awarded in table tennis. They have a stranglehold on the sport and the way I see it, America needs to follow their lead.
Many table tennis insiders say that China is killing the sport before it can get any sort of large following outside of Asia. Growing the sport requires parity, and when your country sweeps all four gold medals that means parity does not exist. There is no reason to believe that anyone can take the Chinese down. I just want to believe in Kanak Jha’s ability so bad. China even started allowing the best players from all over Europe and the Americas to come train at their camps for development opportunities, which is unheard of for a Communist regime like the one that President Xi Jinping oversees.
Our top athletes growing up today don’t want to play football. They’re not interested in basketball. These contact sports are a thing of the past. By 2050, I wouldn’t be surprised if table tennis is the premier sport in America. Could you imagine if all of America’s best athletes were professional table tennis players? Picture Lebron ripping forehands into the corner of a table no larger than the one in your living room. Picturesque isn’t it? I’ll be covering Olympic table tennis all month, so stay tuned for up to date coverage on our boy Kanak and the rest of American team..
Image via Carsten Snejbjerg / The New York Times