Two years ago Lily Zhang became the first U.S. table tennis athlete to medal at the Youth Olympic Games, when she won bronze, and now she's a step closer to becoming the first to medal at the Olympic Games. Zhang qualified for the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team that will compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by defeating American teammate Jiaqi Zheng in the title game on Day 1 at the North American Olympic Qualification Tournament Friday evening in Markham, Ontario.
Zhang downed Zheng 4-0 (11-3, 11-4, 11-5, 11-9) to earn her ticket to Brazil, joining Yue “Jennifer” Wu, who qualified for Rio by taking the gold medal at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, held in the same venue where Zhang competed Friday. Zhang surrendered only two games in three matches, defeating Canadian Li Yu 4-0 and American Crystal Wang 4-2.
With her Rio ticket now safely tucked away, Zhang can build upon the experience she gained four years ago, competing in London in her first Olympic tournament as, at the tender ago of 16, the third-youngest member of Team USA in any sport.
“Everything was so overwhelming,” she said of the experience. "I remember walking out in the Opening Ceremony and seeing all the lights and the people. It was a magical feeling.”
She left London after a first-round elimination in both team and singles play. But she also gained valuable perspective.
“Rio is the time that I can really get far,” she assessed. “This time around I’ll be a lot more prepared.”
Her upward arc has been steady and includes individual bronze medals at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and the past two Pan American Games, as well as gold at the 2015 North American Championships. She also has contributed to two team gold medals (2015 Pan Ams and North American Championships). An athlete who gained world team status at the age of 15, she continues to gain valuable experience and impressive results at a time with the prime of her competitive career still ahead of her.