Santiago, a portent for the future
Staged in Santiago from Sunday 14th to Sunday 21st December 2003, the Chilean capital city was the home for the first ever World Junior Championships.
A most significant tournament, a watershed and now firmly established on the international calendar; it was also significant for another reason. Now 17 years later, the inaugural event witnessed more players on duty who were to become Olympic Games gold medallists than any that followed.
Ma Long, the men’s singles winner at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was on duty, as was his immediate predecessor, Zhang Jike; likewise, Li Xiaoxia, successful in 2012 in London, competed.
One common factor and there was another; in Santiago, no member of the illustrious trio struck gold in the respective boys’ singles and girls’ singles events. Disappointing, not really; all three were born in 1988, at the time were only 15 years old, all were still eligible to compete in cadet age group events.
In fact both Zhang Jike and Ma Long had completed clean sweeps at the ITTF World Cadet Challenge. Zhang Jike had won the boys’ singles, the boys’ doubles partnering Jiang Tianyi and with Li Hu added to the list, the boys’ team at the inaugural event in June 2002 in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary.
Meanwhile, the following year, when the event was staged in November in Gengting Highlands, Malaysia, one month prior to the World Junior Championships, Ma Long had won boys’ team gold in harness with Hu Bingtao and Xu Ke, before partnering Xu Ke and boys’ doubles success and claiming the boys’ singles title at the expense of Japan’s Jun Mizutani.
Just as Ma Long followed Zhang Jike at the Olympic Games, so he did at the World Cadet Challenge!
The top step of the podium in Tiszaujvaros and Gengting; in Santiago, in the boys’ singles event, for both it was a quarter-final exit by the very narrowest of margins. After a spirited recovery, Ma Long lost to Korea Republic’s Lim Jaehyun (11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 8-11, 4-11, 2-11, 12-10); Zhang Jike was beaten by colleague and eventual champion, Li Hu (9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8, 3-11, 11-8, 11-6).
One step short of a place on the podium but there was success. China won the boys’ team title but Ma Long did not play in the final, a contest in which Zhang Jike kept Chinese hopes alive in the final against Chinese Taipei. In the second match of the fixture he lost to Chou Tung-Yu (11-2, 11-8, 6-11, 11-7); in the fourth encounter with Chinese Taipei ahead 2-1 in matches, he accounted for Wu Chih-Chih (11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-8). Lu Hu beat Chou Tung-Yu (7-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7) to seal the victory.
Also, for Ma Long there was mixed doubles silver, for Zhang Jike, boys’ doubles bronze. Partnering Cao Zhen, it was defeat at the hands of colleagues Zheng Changgong and Li Xiaoxia (11-8, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6). Meanwhile, for Zhang Jike, in harness with Zheng Changgong, it was a semi-final reverse when facing Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia and Marcos Freitas (11-9, 12-10, 8-11, 9-11, 12-10, 6-11, 12-10).
Mixed doubles gold for Li Xiaoxia, earlier in the women’s team it had been the same colour; the mainstay of victory in a 3-1 win against Japan, she accounted for both Sayaka Hirano (11-6, 3-11, 11-9, 11-3) and Ai Fukuhara (11-8, 10-12, 11-3, 11-9).
The top step of the podium; in the girls’ singles event, it was two steps lower. After beating Germany’s Kristin Silbereisen (11-13, 11-6, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7), Li Xiaoxia experienced defeat at the hand of colleague Li Qian (8-11, 11-5, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 11-6).
Li Qian, the name causes confusion. A left handed attacking player she is not the same player as Li Qian who now represents Poland, nor Li Qian the Class 3 Paralympian. Alas for Li Qian the win in Santiago was to prove the sum total of her international success.
Conversely, as with Ma Long and Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia progressed to become Olympic Games and World champions; would we have expected that outcome in 2003?
Editor: Ian Marshall
Photo Credit:Mariann Domonkos