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Waldner, Jan Ove

Jan Ove Waldner

1965-

Swedish table tennis player

Jan Ove Waldner has been called the "Mozart of table tennis" because of his ability to play many different compositions on the table. If not Mozart, Waldner is certainly the Michael Jordan of his sport. His domination and nearly mythical status among the sport's players and fans is unprecedented in the history of the game. Although table tennis doesn't enjoy the respect reserved for the world's more recognized sports, Waldner, in countries that take the sport seriously, is widely recognized as the best player of all time. He is one of two players in the sport's history to win all three major titlesat the World Championships, the Olympics and the World Cup. He is also known for possessing the finest serve technique in the European game.

Born October 3, 1965 in Stockholm, Sweden, Waldner quickly became interested in the sport to which he would ultimately devote his life. At the age of six, he asked his parents if he and his brother could participate in a small local tournament. With the encouragement of his parents, Waldner would go on from there to become the Swedish champion for his age group by the time he was nine years old. He turned professional at the age of fifteen and won his first tournament, and a Porsche, at the age of sixteen.

Pride and Prejudice

While Waldner enjoys a faithful fan base in Sweden, table tennis hasn't been given the respect its players and fans believe it deserves. In China, the sport's other powerhouse, the sport is played by the masses. The Chinese play in clubs and schools and even on cement slabs in the park. In the United States, however, the game is largely recreational and usually called Ping-Pong, a name given to the game when Parker Brothers first manufactured a set of equipment more than fifty years ago. Although in some corners of the world the game is wildly popular and highly competitive, it has never risen above its recreational reputation in much of the Western world.

It was in this environment that Waldner began his domination of the sport. Coming up in the liberal Stockholm of the 1970s, he quickly gained a reputation for a punishing serve and outstanding offensive and defensive technique. He began to climb the ranks on both the Swedish and European tour. He won his first Swedish title, one which he would go on to win seven times in his career, in 1983. He has also won the European Top-12 Championship seven times. His reputation was solidified, however, in 1989 when he won his first ever World Singles title and was ranked number one in the world. It was his second appearance in a world singles final but the first time he'd left victorious.

Guerrilla Foreman

Waldner was given the nickname "Guerrilla Foreman" by his Chinese counterparts because of his domination and growing reputation. Going into the 1992 Olympic Games, Waldner had already achieved an astonishing amount at a very young age but was about to compete on a much more visible stage. Every year at the Olympics, fans of table tennis hope that their adopted sport will catch on with a larger audience and ultimately lead to the universal respect they crave. Waldner's appearance at the 1992 games did nothing to change the sport's international standing but it did earn him his first Olympic Gold medal in the men's single competition. It was the only table tennis gold the Chinese didn't win that year.

Following his Olympic performance, Waldner continued playing at a high level, even winning a European Championship in 1996. Despite a disappointing appearance in the 1996 Olympic games, Waldner surprised the experts in 1997 by taking his second World Men's Singles title at the age of thirty-one, eight years after his first. It was his fourth appearance in a world singles final. "I think the first time you win a big tournament is the best feeling," he said, following his win. "But it is eight years since I won and that is a long time. Today I remembered how good it can feel to win."

One Last Time

Waldner returned again to the Olympic stage in 2000. After announcing that it would be his last Olympic appearance, he faced an emotional battle in the semi-finals with the gold medallist from the 1996 Olympics. Waldner, at the age of thirty-four, outlasted the reigning champion, China's Liu Guoliang, but eventually succumbed to top seeded Kong Linghui in the finals. "I lost because Kong played a bit better," Waldner said after the match. Kong, who had studied the game briefly in Sweden, paid respect to his opponent by saying he had watched and idolized Waldner while growing up in China.

Chronology

1965 Born October 3 in Stockholm, Sweden
1971 Plays in first table tennis tournament
1974 Becomes Swedish champion in his age group
1987 Makes first appearance in a world singles final
1989 Wins first World Singles title
1989 Ranks number one in the world for the first time
1991 Third appearance in a world singles final
1992 Wins Olympic Gold Medal
1996 Becomes European champion
1997 Wins second World Singles title
2000 Wins Olympic Silver Medal

Awards and Accomplishments

1983 Wins first Swedish title
1986, 1988 European Champion Men's Table Tennis Doubles Team
1986, 1988, 1990, 1992 European Champion Men's Table Tennis Team
1989 World Champion Men's Table Tennis Team
1989 Wins first World Singles title
1991 World Champion Men's Table Tennis Team
1992 Wins Olympic Gold medal
1993 World Champion Men's Table Tennis Team
1996 Wins European Championship
1997 Wins second World Singles title
1997 Ranks number one in the world
2000 Wins Olympic Silver medal

Waldner's career has slowed considerably since 2000. He has been hampered by injuries but vows to make another comeback. Regardless of his current status, Waldner has already left a lasting impact on the sport he loves. His mythological reputation will continue to influence and inspire newcomers to the game while he continues to serve as an ambassador for a sport that desperately needs the support of its stars.

Where Is He Now?

Waldner has been relatively inactive since the 2000 Olympics. After breaking his foot in the fall of 2002, Waldner has been concentrating on getting back into playing shape. Although there were many rumors concerning the details of the injury, Waldner says he was at a pub when he tripped over a step on his way to the bathroom. During his recovery he has made appearances at tournaments and done some commentary for Swedish television. He hoped to make his return at the World Championships in Paris in May 2003.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Berlin, Peter. "Kong Holds Off Swedish Rival As Chinese Sweep Gold Medals." International Herald Tribune (September 26, 2000): 26.

Corwin, Michael. "A 'Racquet' Heard 'Round The World." Parks & Recreation (September 2000): 31.

Ford, Bob. "Table Tennis Players Want Their Sport To Come Out Of The Basement." Philadelphia Inquirer (July 17, 1996).

Syed, Matthew. "Chinese Domination Complete With Defeat of Old Maestro." Times (August 9, 1999): 31.

"Table Tennis: Waldner Regains the World Crown." Independent (May 7, 1997): 23.

"Table Tennis: Waldner Shines Amid The Chaos." Independent (May 7, 1997): 28.

Other

"The Lightening of Jan-Ove Waldner." Fenerbahce. http://www.geocities.com/fb_table_tennis/english/roportaj3.htm (January 14, 2003).

"Waldner Reaches Final in Last Olympics." Sports Illustrated http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/newswire/2000/09/24/268268093547_afp/ (January 24, 2003).

Sketch by Aric Karpinski

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