MARKHAM, Ontario -- Four days of women’s singles table tennis competition culminated on Day 15 of the Pan American Games with Team USA’s Yue “Jennifer” Wu standing atop the podium donning a gold medal, ready for Rio.
By virtue of her Pan Ams win, Wu qualified by name for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Behind modern pentathlete Nathan Schrimsher, who also punched his ticket at these Games, she is the second U.S. athlete of any sport to make the team.
"I still don't believe it's true..." said Wu, who was born in Beijing and previously played for the Beijing women's team. "Now, I just feel amazing. I'm going to the Olympic Games!"
En route to the gold, Wu retired seven athletes, conceding only six games in total throughout the singles tournament, three of which came in the gold-medal match. She defeated Brazil’s Caroline Kumahara in the semifinals in just 28 minutes. With momentum already on her side, Wu’s focus leading into the final was simple:
"Keep calm. Don't let other things bother me. Just concentrate to play the game. Enjoy the last one.”
And that is exactly what she did. In the final, Wu was up against Brazil’s Lin Gui, a member of Brazil’s table tennis squad at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and defeated her in seven games, 4-3.
Gui and Wu held neck and neck through much of the first two matches, but it was Wu who struck first, taking a two-games-to-none lead after back-to-back 11-8 victories. Gui quickly fired back, owning a one-sided third game, 11-4, and tight fourth and fifth games, 11-8, 12-10.
“Before I was winning two games, then I was thinking about something else too much, I didn’t concentrate for the match,” Wu said.
Wu stole the sixth game to force a seventh and final playoff, and ultimately took the match.
In addition to Wu’s gold, the U.S. picked up a bronze medal when Lily Zhang fell to Gui in the semifinals. Zhang, a Youth Olympic Games bronze medalist, is the only U.S. table tennis athlete to ever take home a medal in Olympic or Youth Olympic Games competition and was a favorite to land on the podium in these Games.
Zhang had maintained a spotless 5-0 record leading into the semifinal, without losing a single game in any of her matches. After falling behind, 4-1, in five games versus Gui, Zhang climbed back to force a seventh game but ultimately conceded to finish with a bronze medal.
Wu, Zhang and Jiaqi Zheng joined together to earn the women's table tennis team gold medal earlier in the week.
“I didn’t think a lot about winning before I came here," Wu said. "I didn’t think I could win the Pan Ams. So I just wanted to play one match by one match…I didn’t think I could get two gold medals.”
The Pan American Games marked the starting point of a year-long qualification process in which more than 500 athletes are expected to be named to the 2016 United States Olympic Team that will compete in 28 sports in Rio from Aug. 5-21, 2016.
U.S. table tennis athletes still have a chance to qualify for the Rio Games at the table tennis continental qualification event, which will be held in April, or by where they stand in ITTF world rankings come May.