2010 Liebherr World Team Table Tennis Championship
Hello, everyone. I wanted to tell you an interesting thing. As you
know, lately I got attached to AKB48. So I'm watching programs on TV
Tokyo. And by pure coincidence I came across a program about table
tennis. It turned out that AKB has established a ping-pong club to
support the national team. And they recorded a special PV for the song
called "Boku no YELL" ("my shout") which is used as an anthem. What is
more interesting is that the world team championship was set to be held
in Moscow. This is the place where I live, by the way. Actually, Russian
press said nothing about this spectacular event and it was by pure luck
that I was watching TV just a day before the start of the tournament.
And for the past week I was closely following the broadcasts on TV Tokyo which showed all the matches with the Japanese team. But suddenly an idea came into my head. I can actually go to the stadium to cheer on the Japanese myself! And I did go there.
I chose the quarterfinals just because it was Friday and the match was scheduled at a very convenient time, 4:30pm. Later it turned out that it was the best choice ever. But let's not hurry.
First of all I should say that I was happy beyond any measure. After all, sitting at the stadium is far different from watching TV. The emotions you get are very strong. When you are at the tribune watching the athletes you cheer on every point they win. Those feelings are hard to forget. Honestly, it was my first time attending a sporting event and I can say that it was very very good. That is, I supposed that it's worth going but I didn't expect it to be that great. And they won. The Japanese girl team beat the Koreans in the quarterfinals. I think that if they lost my impressions would’ve been quite different. But since they didn't I can say for sure that I saw the best match of the whole tournament. Why the best? Now you'll see.
Let's start from the beginning.
The Olympic stadium is located just a 3-minute walk from the subway station called "Boulevard of Peace" and it's in turn just 2 stations away from my home. So it takes around 15 minutes to get there from my place.
The weather was nasty as it usually is but hopefully it wasn't raining.
I arrived at around 4pm. Got a ticket. Luckily I received a nice seat in the center of the tribune. But as it turned out, table no. 1 that I needed was quite far to the left. And the Japanese cheering team occupied the next tribune that is the one to the left from mine which is much closer to table one. As for me, I found myself surrounded by Chinese people who came to cheer on their teams. Their teams as you can see would play on table 2 which was in direct view. But in the end I think that the view was very nice.
There were two matches scheduled for 4:30pm. The one I needed is as I said above, Japan vs. Korea. The adjacent table was to survive two Chinese teams. The first match is China vs. Belarus, the next match is China vs. the Netherlands (read Holland). By the way, in the following few hours Chinese fans were to occupy around a half of the stadium.
So I took my seat. The surroundings are splendid. The stadium is brightly lit and there are flags hanging from the ceiling. Japanese flag included (see at the right).
I was impressed by the TV equipment. There was a 3-section crane with a camera on top of it. The whole construction is on wheels. I think this stuff is expensive. Then, you have these stylish tables. Of course I saw them on TV but it was still a pleasant view. Design and illumination look really innovative just when you think that a table is a table and there’s nothing to add to that. By the way, the table is developed by a Japanese company. Butterfly corp. (aka Tamasu), to be exact.
I'm really sorry for the deplorable quality of photos I made. My dirt-cheap camera simply can't handle shots from a distance. The result is some blurry picture where you can hardly see anything. But at least you can get the idea how the athletes look from the tribune. They look really small. Actually I think it's best to come with binocs and a camera with a huge lens. But not this time, apparently.
There was a balalaika band warming up the audience before the start of the match. That is the band who unlike AKB48 (well, Moeno, but you know...) can play musical instruments. I thought to myself that it would be great to play "Boku no YELL" through the public address. It's a pity that it's not a Japanese championship. I think that at home it's quite possible to play pop songs at the stadium. Say, in Yokohama AKB members attend ping-pong matches to advertize their own table tennis club.
Japan is great and we had this:
I should say that the girls played quite decently but I was worrying more about the Japanese tennis team.
Meanwhile the TV crew was making final preparations.
And then, it was time for the main event. The athletes come out for a line-up. But before that they were running to and fro. I think that they gave an interview. By the way, Ohashi Miho-san from TV Tokyo was working in Moscow to cover the event and present the information directly from the stadium. You can notice that there's a blue folding fence and it's possible to look behind it from the tribune on the other side. I think that the journalists were exactly behind that thing.
When watching TV the girls can surely be seen much closer. But even from this distance they are recognizable. From left to right, Ai-san, Kasumi-chan (aka Kasumin), Sayaka, Hiroko ("I'm the captain") and Ai-san #2.
At the same time there's a line-up at table two, China vs. Belarus. Clearly, it was not the best game for Belarus that day. The final score is 3 to 0 by matches.
But what do we have at table 1?
The battle starts with Sayaka against Part Mion.
It becomes obvious from the very start that the game is going to be very difficult. For example, Sayaka won the second game with the total score of 14 to 12. In the end it took the whole 5 sets for Sayaka to finally win the match but only by a little margin. By the way, it turned out that despite quite a long distance it was very easy to follow the match progress. It's absolutely clear whether the ball hit the table or not. So I could fully enjoy this spectacular event.
It's also important to note that the Japanese support team was very
active. People in yellow t-shirts occupied around a quarter of the
The breaks between sets were filled with shouts from the Japanese tribune. The cheering squad was chanting the name of the active player. More importantly, the chants were quite creative and came in different varieties.
Korean fans were ardent rivals to Japanese. Their cheerleading delegation was larger, they occupied the higher part of the tribune under the Japanese flags.
You can see that there were empty seats on early days of the competition but now they were fully packed with people.
The Koreans shouted very loudly, they tested my eardrums.
I'll return to the talk about fans once again a bit later. Also when you look at the pictures please take a note of the number of arriving visitors as time goes.
By the way, I was the only one at my tribune who cheered on the Japanese. In the next row there were two guys who vividly discussed my actions. One guy said I cheered on the Japanese team because of the girls' looks. I chuckled to myself. Well, indeed the girls are quite close to be called cute but unlike AKB the more appealing point is their play. Say, back in good old days I cheered on Justine when she was #1 in big tennis exactly for the same reason. But to my regret I didn't have a chance to go to the stadium back then.
Going back to our super battle. When Sayaka was done Ai-san appeared on the court. The cheerleading squad prepared two types of chants, "Ai-san" and "Ai-chan". I was actively shouting both versions while clapping my hands. I regret that I didn't have those stick balloons because they produce loud claps much unlike my lame applauses. Well at least I was pleased with myself because I was taking part in cheering.
Meanwhile Ai-san was taking great efforts to overcome her opponent, Kim Kyon Ah. The start was very promising but the battle continued the whole 5 sets and at the crucial moment Ai-san gave in. Now we have a draw.
Here's a set of pictures with Ai-san.
By the way, it was only when I came to the stadium that I noticed how swift Ai-san's service is. She also uses some original technique which is quite distinctive. Apparently her world #8 is not for nothing. But for now her skill didn't give her much wanted bonuses.
Kasumin was to play the third match. Japanese cheering team began to chant "Kasumi! Kasumi!" When Kim was beating Ai-san Kasumi could be seen behind the bench warming up.
Honestly, the coach's decision gave me shivers. Of course, later it turned out that it was a brilliant idea. But you see...
The beginning was terrible. Kasumi was battling against Dang. The first moments looked like total beating. I thought that the coach went crazy. Don't get me wrong, I like Kasumi. I think that she's a genius for her age (she's 17). But she's not the strongest player in the team. At the same time the outcome of the match now depended on a school girl! Just when the couch had two professionals sitting on the bench and doing nothing - Fujinuma Ai and the team's captain, Fujii Hiroko.
So, Kasumi lost 2 sets in a row. I started to think that soon it'll be time to get going. The Japanese fans were quiet, too. But after 2 sets Kasumi came to the coach's bench. There was a short discussion and Kasumi got back to the table.
And at that moment a miracle happened. Kasumi was battling. And she won 3 following sets. I think that if she lost that game the team would have completely lost morale for the next one. But Kasumin won and the score became 2 to 1. IMO, that this victory was a turning point.
If you remember an idea that Japanese school girls will conquer the world (see suzuharu for proof). I think that they are capable of doing so.
One important thing. At the point when Kasumi-san started her match the Chinese team stopped the suffering of the Belarusians. The total score is 3 to 0. I used the moment to congratulate my Chinese neighbor. We spoke English. Actually, it was a Chinese family. A young lady with a little kid and her husband came to cheer on their team. Though for some reason their dad went to the next tribune (the Japanese tribune). Maybe he didn't get a seat but in fact, some seats remained empty the whole day. So, I said that I was rooting for Japan, the lady was kind enough to support the conversation and expressed the opinion that the Japanese are doing good and they should win. Success. I had just established intercultural links. Later I learned that Ai-san is actually well-known in China because she was training there for many years. She speaks Mandarin and she's on good terms with the Chinese team. There's an interview with her on the site of Chinese embassy in Japan.
When the Chinese family packed things and got going another match was about to start at table 2. It was the second quarterfinals match between girl teams, China vs. the Netherlands (aka Holland). It was around 7:15pm when I first took a look at my watches. It's like that anecdote. "Internet is a great thing. You come to sit for 5 minutes and 3 hours pass". Apparently, table tennis has the same qualities.
China vs. Holland. Tei Nei (aka Ding Ning, "polite") against a girl called Li Jie. The one to the left of the Chinese coach is Ryuu Shibun (aka Liu Shiwen), currently ranking #1 in the charts. Tei Nei herself is number 4.
The Dutch team is very interesting, too. Their coach is Chinese and they have Li Jie. Li has 2 gold medals for Holland in her career. The match against Tei Nei was very tough. But it didn't change the result in any way. The total score was still 3 to 0.
OK, let's get back to table 2. It was time for Sayaka to play her second match. Her opponent was to be Kim who had beaten Ai-san a couple of hours earlier. Once again, a tough battle awaited us. Some rallies were so awesome that I was screaming with delight. Honestly, this level of tennis is beyond comprehension.
At the same time the fans were increasing in number. As it turned out, it was Russian fans who came to support our team in the match against Germany. And when Sakaya lost to Kim Kyon the lower tribunes were fully packed. Now some of the Russians started to support the Japanese team because they believed the match would end sooner that way.
But Sayaka was going to lose and deprive me from my dinner. It was 8pm.
As a last attempt to change the situation the Japanese coach asks for a time-out.
But it doesn't help. Actually, Sayaka did indeed have a chance to finish the match winning 3 to 1 but again was some 2 or 3 balls away from success.
Ai-san came to play the final match. Her opponent was Park Mion who had lost to Sakaya in the beginning.
Honestly I believed in Ai-san. First, she's called an ace and that's not for nothing. Then, I never saw her losing two matches in a row.
The match was tough again. Ai-san won the first set with 11 to 6 but easily lost the second one. At the same time Holland finally gave up any attempts to win a game. Li Jie and her Chinese coach failed.
The Chinese played like machines. Both Chinese teams, guys and girls completed their games before the epic battle against Korea could finish.
Ai-san had to take two sets. And she did it.
Final moments. I checked Youtube and I found a nice video of that game. You can see me at the tribune at around 0:00 to 0:40. The left tribune, 7th row, second from the end, the guy in a black coat. And if you look at the photo above you can see the author of this video. A fat man is clearly seen standing at the tribune on the other side.
Final Moment Ai-san vs. Park Mion
You can notice that I applause when Ai-san scores. But I should admit I was already quite tired from cheering for 5 hours straight.
After the match the team bowed to the supporters and quickly left the court to be interviewed. When I left my seat I noticed Ai-san's mother in the corridor. She was actually sitting among the Japanese at the tribune for common people.
It was already 10pm and I was hungry as hell. But many people who came at 8pm kept waiting for the Russian team. I personally knew their fate so I headed home.
But before that I really wanted to talk to some Japanese. I was running to and fro until I found the head of their cheering squad. I have him on my photo, he's closest to the camera with his back turned to me.
He was packing gear in the corridor when I noticed him. When he heard me he heartfully thanked me for my support and shook my hand with both his hands.
The conversation (translated) was like that:
I'm Nikorai. I was at the tribune next to yours.
I was also cheering for the Japanese team.
- Thank you very much.
- It was a good battle, wasn't it?
- Oh, yes. 5 matches. One team winning over the other one...And it was very long.
- I was worrying. But I'm glad it ended like that.
Congratulations on your victory.
- Thank you very much."
Actually I said a few simple phrases but it was still very pleasant.
In the end I should say that I was sitting at the stadium from 4 to 10pm but I was very pleased with myself. I think everyone should try to visit such an event. I greatly enjoyed it. Kudos to the Japanese who made me really happy.
Finally, now that the tournament is over I'd like to say few words about the results. After this uber match against Korea the Japanese girls lost to China. The guys beat Hong Kong but also lost to China. And the Chinese girls lost to Singapore in the finals. Which is sensational because their teams looked invincible. And China didn't lose for 30 years. But it did in Moscow. All in all, this tournament was full of surprises and great victories.
And to finally close this topic I'd like to comment on another video. It's a tv recording from last year, the World Championship in Yokohama.
Zhang Yining (=Chou Inei) vs. Ishikawa Kasumi
That time Kasumin was playing against Chou Inei in the quarterfinals. Chou-san ranked #1 back then. And Kasumi took one set though she lost with a total of 5 games played. You might notice other familiar faces as well. Like Sae, Miho and two Minamis. They got the whole tribune at their disposal. Good for them. Also note the number of people at the stadium. Unlike Russia ping-pong is very popular in Japan indeed.