Para Pan Am Games - Team Event Day 6 - Part 2

Nov. 21, 2011, 6:01 p.m. (ET)
When I write this I am finally at my home computer and it is a little easier to type after a very early start of travel (2 AM) The Final and last round of the Para Pan Am Games Table Tennis competition had USA playing in 2 Team Finals.

In the Women's Team wheelchair Class 1-3 USA was playing against Mexico where they had one class 3 player (Bronze medalist in singles) that is very strong and a class 1 with a vicious serve who is playing better in every

The first match is Tara against the strong Mexican number 1 where Tara did not have much to put up against her and lost 3-0. Next is Pam Fontaine against the Mexico class 1 and even if Pam won it was not easy with 2 games in deuce and the Mexican surprised with several good shots, and Pam pushed away with a tough 3-0 win.

Next up is Pam against the number 1 Mexican player where Pam is not able to put up a very strong fight and losses surprisingly easy 3-0, with 1,000 screaming Mexican fans so loud it was difficult to hear yourselves think, a scenario the USA players are not used to.

The next match is a key match where Tara is playing against Mexico's number 2 and Tara start out good with a win in the first games, but after that the Mexican finds a serve that works against Tara and relentlessly continues the remaining match with the same serve and Tara cannot find a way to return it and losses 3-1 and Mexico upsets the 2009 Team Class 1-3 winners and the Gold goes to Mexico.

In the last Team Final in Men's team standing class 9-10 USA is playing against the strong Brazilian team. They have the winner in Men singles class 10 who so far is undefeated, but so is Tahl so this will be the big show down of who is the best Men's standing player in the tournament. The first match is Tahl against a penholder  who did not play the semifinal. In the semi Mexico put up a very strong fight against Brazil and the normal number 2 in Brazil lost 2 matches so now Brazil is trying another class 10 penholder player against USA. Tahl is  not having much problems and wins his first match easy 3-0.

Next up is Wayne Lo against the number one Brazilian and this is also very lopsided match where Wayne is not having any chance and losses 3-0.

Next is the match of the tournament between Tahl who is Gold medalist in singles Class 9, and the Brazilian who is the Gold medalist in singles Class 10. The disability difference is not so large between class 9 and 10 so sometimes a good class 9 can beat a class 10 even if they have more disability. Tahl start out a little tight and loses the first game after making several mistakes, and the Brazilian is playing slower than expected. In the second games Tahl is playing better and more careful and win 11-8, and after that the tightness transfers to the Brazilian who has not been under pressure the whole tournament and start to show weakness in his nerves after missing some easy shots and cannot recuperate and Tahl wins 3-1.

Next is really the only way USA can win and that is if Wayne can win against the Brazilian penholder. Wayne has played very strange this tournament playing half of the time shake hand and the other half penhold and have won using both grips. The Brazilian is starting out nervous and plays shaky and Wayne takes advantage of that and wins the first game 11-7.

In the second the Brazilian is playing better and jams Wayne with some tricky long side top spin serves that Wayne cannot return and takes over the control of the match and wins the following 2 games 11-5, 11-4. In the 4th game Wayne finally figures out how to return the long serves but by that time the Brazilian has gotten his confidence back and starts to play much better and wins the match 3-1.

The last match in this new format, that will be used at the Games in London, is doubles. Brazil brings in another player in doubles who is the normal number 2 for Brazil and they are a seasoned doubles team with good mobility and a lefty right combination which is a big advantage in standing doubles. Wayne as a class 8 has a hard time to move and Tahl has some mobility but not good enough to cover the areas needed against a strong team like Brazil. Tahl makes some incredible shots as he tries to up his level to match the Brazilians but they just need to get the ball back to put pressure on Wayne and they win the match and the Team Gold comfortably with 3-0.

Brazil ends up by far with the strongest record in Table Tennis with 13 Gold medals compared to the number 2 team which is the home team Mexico with 3 Gold's and USA ends up in 4th place after Argentina who got 2 Gold. USA gets: 1 Gold (Tahl in Men's singles class 9) 4 silver (Andre class 5 singles, Pam class 3 singles, Men's team class 9-10, Tahl and Wayne, Women team class 1-3 Pam and Tara) and one bronze (Men's team class 4-5 Andre, Stu, Emmanuel and Jim Segrest).

Overall Team USA in all sports finished in third place in the medal count at the games also after Brazil and Mexico. 

In Table Tennis team USA showed a strong team spirit and cheered on the team all the time when they were not playing themselves. With only one 5 day training camp as preparation for the games it is quite remarkably that USA can do so good when we are competing against teams that lives and trains together every day, like Mexico and Brazil where every player on the national team has a monthly salary. The next step USATT needs to do is to
create a USA PTT National team, as of now we do not even have that !!!!!

As of now USA has for sure qualified one player to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in Tahl that includes all athletes both PTT as well an able bodied. Pam should qualify as well because the Cuban player
that won in Women singles class 3 did not participate in enough tournaments to have the minimum category points to be eligible for selection. USA also had on the selected team three player that had they won the singles title they would not have qualified either in Wayne and Chris and Stu. Daryl and Tara has still a good chance to qualify based on their world ranking. She started out as World ranked number 14 and finished most likely as number 9. Andre and Jim are both eligible for a wild card but that is a very tough selection process.

Each nation normally only gets max 1 wild card overall, and some nations do not even get that. Also both Tara, who started as world ranked 14 moved up to 9th place, and Pam, who started out as World ranked 16 moved up to 11th place, are close in being ranked in the top 8 in the world after this tournament and would in that case qualify for the TOP Athlete sport program offered by USOC, with many benefits. Andre also significantly improved his world ranking from 31 to about 21 in this tournament winning over higher world ranked players three times, but will most likely still be short of being selected based on ranking. Tahl who started out as world ranked 18 in class 9 gained maximum points by being undefeated, and moved up to 12th place.

In December 2010 when the slots was determined for the 2011 Para Pan Am Games based on the number of world ranked athletes a nation has, USA had only 12 male and 4 female. USA currently has 24 male and 5 female athletes on the ITTF World ranking with an ITTF classification, and that is really only with one ITTF sanctioned tournament in USA since 2007, so we are moving up in the ranks and by the next Para Pan Am Games which is in Toronto 2015 we should get more than the current 12 slots for Table Tennis. As a comparison before the Games Mexico had 8 male and 6 female world ranked athletes, Argentina 24 male and 6 female, and Brazil had 59 male and 19 female ranked.

In closing it was a pleasure being the USA Team Leader for this Team. I have not been in this position since 1992 in Barcelona and it is a pleasure working with such a dedicated team.

Christian Lillieroos
Team Leader Table Tennis
2011 Para Pan Am Games Guadalajara