Once Upon A Day
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Once Upon A Day
World Team Table Tennis 2012
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WTTTC: Timo Boll-Ma Long

LIEBHERR 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships, Moscow, RUS, May 23 - May 30 , 2010. Men's Teams Final.

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The journey from one capital city to another over, the journey from Beijing in China to Vienna in Austria completed on Friday 16th March 2012; it was time to rest and recover from jet-lag but not for long!

Training began in earnest on Saturday 17th March; that was the situation for the Chinese National Team who had arrived at the Werner Schlager Academy in Schwechat a suburb of Vienna.

They started their final preparations for the Liebherr World Team Championships, which commence in the German city of Dortmund on Sunday 25th March.

True to the very best traditions of Chinese table tennis, the preparations were organised in a most thorough and professional manner.

Donn Olsen Reports
Certainly Donn Olsen, a staff member at the Werner Schlager Academy was impressed.

He reports of the first day of training

Some Things Remain the Same
Nothing so represents the character of this team than its year-in-year-out consistency, so we did expect and did observe again this year what are the unmistakeable hallmarks of table tennis greatness that only the Chinese national team exemplifies in full expression.

With a fully-staffed athletes' support team including coaches, officials, and a physiotherapist, all of this engagement's details (of which there are very many) were handled with exquisite efficiency, allowing the athletes to focus on their premium point of responsibility—performance at the table. By “performance,” we are here referring to the training activities, for it is in this preparation that the team creates its greatest separation from the rest of the sport's world.

Most intriguing in seeing these consistent standards in action is the obvious realization that the enforcement of this outstanding structure is not performed by rules and regulations, but by a team spirit and culture that, by its presence, more strongly testifies to the real strength of this team than the sum total of all the other factors so often cited when the matter of the team's dominance in table tennis is discussed. To understand the essential qualities of this powerful team spirit is to understand the source of China's greatness before our eyes.

Some things remain the same.

Some Things Change
Only one thing may be mentioned on the topic of changes from last year to this because, for the lovers of table tennis, it is an item that gives pause: Wang Liqin has not been selected for the team to represent China at the 2012 World Championships in Dortmund, Germany. This pause, this moment of no movement upon hearing the news, reflects the specialness of Wang Liqin to the sport.

In the Men's division, he is our last great lion, the last to rule over this land in the dominant manner that only a lion may. For so long, you had this member and that member of China's team, each and every one a great player, but there was only one Wang Liqin.

Some things change.

Highlights of Day One
For the major themes on display, we will discuss them in some detail in the following days. Here we will simply list some of the random items on this first day as an outline of the training session.

As with China's visit last year, a very select few were invited to train with the team this year, all of Austrian residence this time. On the women's side, Daniela Dodean, Amelie Solja, Liu Jia, and Li Qiangbing ably engaged their Chinese counterparts, while on the men's side, Chen Weixing took the morning session and Stefan Fegerl participated in the afternoon.

It was clear again this year that Liu Guoliang is the lead coach of the team, as all those around are left with the undeniable sense that it is his major influence guiding the team. This time however, when the opportunity presents itself, he is supported by his most helpful Apple iPAD 2.

The Chinese team seems rather more loose during warm-up than at any other time during the session. That said, one pattern did emerge on more tables more often than any other. It seems many on the team find value (and particular enjoyment?) in forehand counterlooping away from the table.

They do this warm-up routine in a specific way, starting their shot placement first diagonally, forehand-court-to-forehand-court (right hander-to-right hander or lefthander-to-lefthander). Then, one of the players directs her shot to the middle of the table, requiring her partner to move to perform another forehand counter loop, also directing their shot back to the middle of the table, forcing the other player to also move as needed.

Then, after one or two more middle-table-to-middle-table exchanges, a forehand counterloop is directed to the partner's backhand court, in which case the player moves into her backhand area to execute another forehand, this time placing it in her partner's backhand court also, requiring a similar repositioning. Now the exchange has evolved to be a forehand-to-forehand from the backhand court. Then what? Yes, you guessed it, they reverse the sequence.

One of the training match-ups was Wang Hao and Ma Lin, the right handed reverse penholder duo of the team (no longer any women's penholders on this traveling band). More than on any of the other tables, these two favoured forehands and forehands forever into their partners backhand blocks, with the blocks sprayed all over the table. They clearly enjoyed this.

Ma Long and Xu Xin were partnered together in the morning session. Unlike last year, when Xu split his backhand blocking time between the one-sided traditional style and the (new and improved?) reverse penholder defence, this year in this session he exclusively focused on refining his reverse penholder blocking technique (Ma Lin is still splitting his time). Xu, apparently, does not yet have it just right, for something caught the eye of Sir Liu Guoliang, prompting Mr. Liu to, with Xu's own racket, demonstrate the correctness needed.

Later, back on the Wang-Hao-Ma-Lin table, interest had shifted to the all-the-rage backhand serve return over the table, requiring the racket to start below the ball and then swooshing around (right to left direction for the right handers) then up and over (left to right now).

Whatever these two were doing indicated to Liu Guoliang their need of instruction, as the next 20 minutes or so of his time was devoted to this. Some of their attempts resulting in the ball going in a number of undesirable directions were a source of much bemusement for all three, with the highpoint of the laughter coming in Wang Hao's attempts to use this technique on a Liu Guoliang serve that bounces short on the table, in the middle, and promptly darts directly sideways off the side of the table.

A chance to see a Chinese player whiff the ball!

On the personality side of this team, Ding Ning, again this year, stands head-and-shoulders above all the rest as the ever-smiling one, surpassing all others by a wide margin.

Each of these Chinese players train at a variety of different relationships to the table, as play dynamics demand this diversity to optimize their responses to different circumstances. On this first day, Zhang Jike took the prize as spending the most time taking the most pressure very near the table's end, as training partners and coaches alike drove shots strongly at him and away from him, relentlessly stretching the Men's Singles World Champion's capabilities to their farthest ends. As ever-the-fighter-to-not-give-ground, Ma Lin placed second here.

As each session draws to its close, a lightness of being sets into the team, a playfulness that no longer has the repetitive stresses of movement and reflex that dominated the session up to this point. In this last time, the men and women begin interacting, along with the coaches, mostly on the matters of serve and serve return, two perfect cooling down engagements.

On a humorous high note, to the delight of all watching, including Werner Schlager himself, the team's physiotherapist requested the opportunity (to use that term very loosely) to return a variety of Liu Guoliang's serves. While possessing exactly the right attitude about it all, the physiotherapist experienced an eye-opening time!

It was a very good first day.

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