USA Table Tennis

58-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 05, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 58, July 5 - Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”

“Meeting people and seeing that I have something to give makes me happy.” 

Peter KarlssonThroughout his playing career, Peter Karlsson won five gold medals at the WTTC’s: in 1989, 1991, 1993, and 2000 as a member of Sweden’s Men’s Team, and in 1991 Men’s Doubles with Thomas von Scheele.  Additionally, he won the European Championships in 2000. 

After he was concluded his professional playing days, he became affiliated with “Peace and Sport,” which earned him the title “Champion for Peace.”  Today the Countdown shares Peter’s thoughts about table tennis, peace, and the energy he has drawn and given in both areas. 

As I was visiting with incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert on Countdown Day 69 about the “Ping Pong Paix” project in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was interested to learn more about your involvement in that project.  I read that you have the nickname “Champion for Peace.”  That’s very fitting.  For quite some time, you have devoted yourself to development issues, especially in your long association with Stag.  Could you comment on what has drawn you to these activities?

As an active player, which I was for about 25 years, you are very focused on yourself and how you should work to win as much as possible. You have to be like that! In 2005 I did my first ITTF training camp, it was in Fiji.  I was still an active player. I played in my last World Championships in 2006 in Bremen, Germany.

I really enjoyed doing the training camp.  It was like entering a "new world," but still connected to my passion, table tennis. As a player I had the thinking, "There is one winner, the one with the gold medal, and the rest are losers." But sport / table tennis is so much bigger than that!

When I was in Fiji I realized that I can have an impact as a player.  I can make difference! People, players, coaches on all different levels are very interested to know "the way to success." It made me happy to have the opportunity to give something back to the sport. Also, to do it with a very good partner, in an organized way, the ITTF, of course helped.

In 2007, I signed a contract with Stag.  I don’t need to explain to you about the values Vivek [Kohli] has -- he is an amazing personality! And in 2009, I met “Peace and Sport” for the first time. What they are working for, how sport can be used as a tool for Peace, is something I really support and like.

So basically I can say: to have an opportunity to give something back to the sport / table tennis, and also to have the satisfaction of helping people and make people happy, is what has drawn me into this. And doing it with great partners, ITTF, Stag, Peace and Sport, of course helps.

I also think I was mentally tired after living in the "competition world" for 25 years. Life is much bigger than winning titles in table tennis! Now I could meet people with different backgrounds and different values in life. Very interesting! 

In the “Ping Pong Paix” project, you delivered a keynote speech touching on three values you have learned from sport.  Respect, Discipline and Planning.  Taking each one-by-one, could you amplify?  Let’s start with Respect.

Respect for me is to give all persons and humans a fair chance. And also to treat them according to their personality not according to their status in life, whether they are rich or poor, or a good player or a not so good player, etc. Respect was something that was always there in the Swedish team. We were competing with respect for each other and the group. It was healthy competition! 

Discipline? 

I would even call it "daily discipline." This is one of the basic things that has to be there to create a structure/plan with high quality. I have seen many good players and met many successful people.  Discipline is something they all have in common.  

Planning?

As a player, and as a person, you have dreams and goals. To reach these goals, you need to ask yourself: How? You need to create a PLAN.  Planning is extremely important.  It’s like a road map in life.  At the same time you need to evaluate and update your plan regularly. If you have an interesting plan, it gives you energy to fight even though life is tough sometimes!  

I last saw you play several months ago when you were taking the opportunity to visit South Florida when you had a connecting flight through Miami.  Everyone at the club was delighted and astonished that you showed up and graciously hit with one person after another.  That was a thrill to see everyone so pleased to have the chance to rally with a World Champion.  Your enthusiasm for the sport is clear.  What energy do you draw from these “people-to-people” encounters?

It goes back to my first answer.  Meeting people and seeing that I have something to give makes me happy.  I like to meet new people from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s not only that I give, they give me a lot as well! They give me new experiences. This is important in my life.  

As we count down the closing days of the Sharara presidency, a special accomplishment for Sweden comes to mind: the unforgettable Men’s Team victory over China at the 2000 WTTC’s in Malaysia.  There is always so much talk that the “Chinese can’t be beat,” but the Swedish veterans dug deep to take another world title.  Can you tell us about the approach to the final and the feelings you had that day?   

Oh, how to make this short?  The players on the team had a very long relation with each other, which helped. The respect in the group has always been there. We had beaten China before, so we had no mental barrier! Sweden has always had the BELIEF that we can beat China. When chances come, you are mentally prepared to grab them! 

With two such big Champions as Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson, everything is possible! Persson was struggling against Italy in the semifinal.  And then he came back and played outstanding in the final.  This is a champion!  Having fun together and respecting each other has always been a key factor for Sweden. To know when to be "on" and when to be "off" is extremely important. We were all very different personalities, but it was ok to be like that. RESPECT! 

Countdown reader Mark Bryant recently stated, “I would like to read a good ‘underdog’ story.  One of the reasons I love the game is because you don’t have to be the best player in order to beat the best player.”  

So I have one more question.  It regards your winning the European Men's title in 2000.  Some people may have thought of you as somewhat of an "underdog."  How did you win that title?  And what advice do you have for others who might see themselves as the underdog in their matches? 

We are coming back to what I previously mentioned: high belief in yourself!  

To work mentally with yourself is very important. To repeat another point I said earlier, if you are mentally prepared you will also be ready when chances are coming. You create the chances and it’s very important to be mentally ready when those chances are there.  Being an underdog or not is something I don’t focus on so much!  Don’t forget that I had played many big and important matches earlier in my career. That helped!  

For me it was a process.  I think I was mentally more prepared in the second part of my career.  I won the European Championships in Bremen in 2000 at the age of 31.  I think I was an even better player between 1991 and 1996, but I was not mentally ready! 

The awareness of a player is very important: 

Who am I? 

What do I want?

How can I achieve it? 

And you need to create an environment where you maximize your chances. If you need to change your environment, OK, change it, go ahead! Time management is also very important: 

If you are working well, the future is for you! 

If you are not working well, you will lose time! 

This explaining can continue, but it’s better to stop here.    

Thank you, Peter.  It’s good to know that besides the great career you enjoyed having, you are finding so much happiness now by promoting peace through table tennis!

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