|The International Star Team: (from left to right) Rye Seung Min of South Korea, Swedish Jan-ove Waldner, Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, Austrian Werner Schlager and German Timo Boll at the drawing ceremony, Dec. 13, 2004. |
Following is what Chinese coaches and players say about table tennis legend Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden
Cai Zhenhua, China head coach:
We had learnt a lot from Waldner's entry to the men's singles semifinals in the Athens Olympics.
He shows the world that age isn't a problem for table tennis players and that's why I encourage Chinese veterans Kong Linghui and Wang Nan to carry on. Table tennis is a technical sport, not a sport that needs body contact. Waldner hadn't received systematic training and had become a second-rate player before the Athens Games but he changed his style and added a sting to his play when big moments came. He is able to make the best of his skills and tactics when it counts. He givesus a good lesson on how to put it all together for a better result.
Jiang Jialiang, former world champion
I have watched Waldner very closely since I became a TV commentator in the 1988 Olympics. His games are pearls in my most cherished memory. He is more like an orchestra conductor than an athlete and he bemuses his rivals and amuses spectators.
I didn't expect much from him in the 2000 Olympics but he made it to the final. Four years later in Athens, I believed he could pull off some surprises as a veteran good at controlling his rivals and spectators. He out-maneuvered young players who might be techinically better but not as wise. I felt sorry for his loss to South Korean Ryu Seung Min. He told me in an interview that he would rather lose to South Koreans than Chinese because he wanted to prove Chinese were not unbeatable.
Wang Tao, former Olympic doubles champion:
In the 1992 Olympics, which was my first Games and where I paired up with Lu Lin to win the doubles gold medal, Waldner was at the top and deserved the singles gold. Twelve years later he made it to the championship final in a feat really seen in the sport.
In competition, Waldner can easily dwarf his rivals by exerting pressure. He has played 10 world championships and might not value the event as much as before. But the Olympics is still important for him. He told me he would win the Olympic gold when we met once before the Games. He almost did it.
He had single-handedly confronted six generations of Chinese players. Wherever he is, he is a brand of table tennis. People give him applause no matter he wins or loses. He is a legend, an example, a symbol.
Lu Lin, former Olympic doubles champion, China coach:
World top 20 players are very close and the winner must have something that others don't have.
Waldner plays a wise game and he is concentrated whenever he is taking initiative or forced into defense. His stroke isn't heavy but it surely makes you uncomfortable. In his 1992 Olympic duel with hard-hitting Jean-Philippe Gatien, Waldner dominated in every aspect and beat the Frenchman in straight sets.
Waldner is born for table tennis. He is an ordinary man off the table tennis court, no girlfriend, unable to drive, busy with competing and making money, yet leaving his finances to his elder brother. Except table tennis, he is good at almost nothing.
Liu Guoliang, former Olympic and world champion, Chinese men's team head coach:
Waldner came to Athens to prove himself. He had won everything but something still motivated him. He wanted to show he wasn't old and he was still able to work wonder. He wanted due respect from the table tennis world.
Waldner looked well prepared in the Athens Games after training with Austrian and Italian players as well as European stars Vladimir Samsonov and Zoran Primorac for over a month.
Kong Linghui had exactly the same feeling. He had won everything but wanted to prove his value in the Chinese team with a doubles gold medal.
Athletes need spiritual backbone to carry on.
For a long time Europeans had been afraid of Chinese players but Waldner proved Chinese were not invincible. After beating Kong Linghui and Wang Hao in the doubles, a more confident Waldner routed Ma Lin in the singles and then ousted Timo Boll of Germany. Kong, Ma and Boll underestimated Waldner's potential and they all paid for their mistakes.
Boll was afraid of Ma Lin and didn't want to meet him. After Waldner shut out Ma, Boll thought his time had come because he beat Waldner in his international debut and had a better encounter record. A 3-1 loss was a heavy blow to the German.
Ryu Seung Min is young and tough-minded and his play is much like Chinese youngster Chen Ji's.
Waldner tried to lure the South Korean into the same mistakes by Boll but Ryu stuck to his game and triumphed 3-1. Chinese men's Olympic setbacks started with Walnder/Persson's win over Kong/Wang.
To some extent, Waldner ruined our Olympic plan.
Chinese young players should learn Waldner's spirit.
Kong Linghui, former world and Olympic champion:
I sat with Jorgen Persson, Chen Weixing and Johnny Huang while Waldner defeated Timo Boll in the Olympic quarterfinals. According to Persson, Waldner had told his teammate and doubles partner that he would beat Boll. Waldner's confidence was built on his battle experience.
Few would bet on a 39-year-old before the Olympics, or expected him to beat Ma Lin and Boll.
He hadn't beaten Ma Lin for six years and Boll for three years. His games against Ma and Boll are table tennis classics. Conservative tactics and hesitation at clutch moments cost two youngsters dearly.
Twice finalist and once semifinalist in singles in five Olympic Games may be a difficult record for his successors to beat. He may not have the best techniques in the world but he does possess world-class mentality and unmatchable experience.
He can easily see through his opponents and baffle them with his ever-changing styles. I was deeply moved when I saw he wore a lumbar pad. He had received operations and had a steel tube planted in his injured leg. Many spectators rooted for Waldner in his bronze medal match against Wang Liqin. He is a table tennis legend.
Ma Lin, Olympic doubles champion:
I lost to Waldner in the Olympics and I felt bad about it. I have lots of respect for Waldner.
In the past several years, he had never beaten me and it seemed I was up and up and he was on a free fall. I didn't expect him to play so well in Athens.
Wang Liqin, former world and Olympic doubles champion:
I had a tough game against Waldner in the Austrian Open early 2004, outlasting him 4-3. With a wrong impression that he was aging, I underestimated him. I survived that game because I played a little better at the end. Waldner's Olympic victims made the same mistake as I did in the Austrian Open. When I vied for the Olympic bronze, I saw him as a top player instead of an old player. Waldner is an example. He still plays at 39. If I can make it to the Olympic semifinals at 39, I will be very happy.