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Teams hope to add bounce to diplomacy

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-25 07:12

Lin Gaoyuan (L)/Lily Zhang compete during the mixed doubles round of 64 match between Lin Gaoyuan of China/Lily Zhang of the United States and Tiago Apolonia/Jieni Shao of Portugal at 2021 World Table Tennis Championships Finals in Houston, the United States on Nov 23, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

For US table tennis player Lily Zhang, a practice session on the eve of the world championships gave her the chance to iron out any kinks in her game as she got used to a new doubles partner-Lin Gaoyuan from China.

That was on Monday night, when she was pleasantly surprised with how well she worked with Lin in Houston. "Quite a few times I thought we would lose on the incoming ball, but he managed to hit the ball and land it on the other side. I was a little surprised," Zhang said.

As with table tennis players, so the hope is for two nations. On the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, many want to see the US and China learn to keep their eye on the ball and work a little more smoothly together.

With Ping-Pong Diplomacy being celebrated during the championships in the Texas city, the event sees China and the US teaming up to form two pairs of mixed doubles.

Liu Guoliang, chair of the World Table Tennis Council and president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, said this year's tournament is extraordinary because it marks half a century since the world became acquainted with Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

In April 1971, teams from the US and China had a chance encounter at the table tennis world championships in the Japanese city of Nagoya. Ping-Pong Diplomacy has been credited with playing a role in the process that led to the normalization of ties between the countries.

"I think this is the continuation of China-US Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Fifty years are not a period," Liu said. "Instead, we have to figure out how to continue the legacy into Ping-Pong Diplomacy 2.0. It also shows that the Chinese team is very strong in the sport of table tennis, and we can help any team in the world."

Good outcome

As for the action on the table, the four players took part in the practice session. And in the friendly match that followed, the results were split down the middle-a good outcome in sport and diplomacy.

The two Chinese-US pairs went on to advance to the next round of the championships after winning the opening mixed doubles matches 3-0 on the first day of the championships, according to CGTN. The event got underway on Tuesday.

Liu said he is curious to see what the pairings will achieve at the championships, but the final scores are less important to him. "I hope the players of the two countries, by working together and moving forward together, attract more people to pay attention to the sport of table tennis."

Political observers will be hoping something of that spirit spreads beyond the championships venue in Houston.

As with Zhang, there is excitement among the other three players in the mixed teams. US player Kanak Jha, who pairs with Chinese player Wang Manyu, said he was in awe of Wang's skill after the Monday practice session.

Jha, who spoke of his confidence for the big matches ahead with Wang, added: "Our style is a little bit different which is maybe good to pair together because they say sometimes the opposites attract. I think she has a very strong forehand and backhand flick. Me, I am safer and more consistent, so together I hope we can bring out each other's strength."

Wang said she discovered Jha's strength during the joint training session, and that she feels fortunate to be part of a transnational team.

"Being able to cooperate in Houston with Kanak and compete as a transnational mixed doubles team, it is an opportunity for me to cooperate as a Chinese athlete with an American athlete," she said. "I hope by going all out to play each game, we can make our story history in Houston."

Zhang summed up the feeling of the two teams. "I hope we will do our best and get good results," she said. And, mindful that there is more at stake than just sport, she added: "It's really an incredible feeling to be a part of this huge moment in history."


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