UNIONVILLE, Ontario -- At only 19 years old, Lily Zhang is already a veteran at the Pan American Games. After taking home a bronze medal in both the individual and team competitions in 2011, Zhang arrived at the 2015 Games seeking even better results.
In a two-hour match that tested Team USA’s determination and perseverance, the trio of Zhang, Jiaqi Zheng and Yue Wu took home gold in the women’s table tennis team competition, defeating No. 1-seeded Brazil.
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“This is absolutely incredible,” Zhang said. “The crowd was really incredible and seeing this many people come to watch table tennis is a great sight to see.”
In the table tennis team event, the first team to win three matches wins, with the first two matches being singles, the third doubles and the final two singles. The first singles match of the night was Zheng against Brazil’s Lin Gui. Zheng fell to Gui in the first game, 11-7, in six minutes. The second game belonged to Zheng, who won 11-9. In the third game, Zheng took a quick lead on Gui, who never recovered, winning 11-6. The best-of-five match then belonged to Zheng with her 11-8 win in the fourth game, earning a point for Team USA.
In the second singles match, Zhang took the court for the Americans against Brazil’s Caroline Kumahara. Zhang jumped out to a quick 5-0 start in the first game, setting her pace for a dominant 11-3 win. Kumahara rebounded to take the second game, 11-7. Zhang again made quick work of the Brazilian, winning game three 11-4. Kumahara fought back in an 11-5 fourth game, tying the match 2-2. Zhang was able to earn the second point for Team USA with a come-from-behind win in the fifth game, 12-10.
“Winning the second match and leading 2-0 took a little bit of the pressure off of us,” Zhang said. “We had a lit bit more leeway.”
With the Americans only needing one more point to secure the gold, Team USA sent Zheng and Wu to the floor for the doubles round. After a 12-10 win in the first game, Team USA took game two, 11-6. They completed the sweep of Brazil in doubles with an 11-8 win and the third point needed to secure gold.
“It’s just amazing,” said Wu, who became an American citizen last year. “It’s my first time to play at Pan Ams and my first time to get the gold medal. It’s so exciting.”
“Representing Team USA every time is just the best feeling,” said Zhang, who has also competed at both the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games. “You think it would get old,” Zhang said, “but wearing the U.S. flag and being able to represent my country is an amazing feeling.”
And now, Zhang has earned her first gold medal for Team USA.
“Getting bronze last time,” Zhang said, “was good, but it was a little bit heartbreaking. Being able to finally come back here and win gold feels incredible.”