It was a very interesting dynamic at the trials.
On the women's side, as we walked in the Canadians had a decided advantage as Mo Zhang had captured the Pan Am title, securing one of the three Olympic spots. One more win by the Canadians and they have two singles players and take the team rights and, therefore, have the privilege of sending three Canadian women to the Olympics. We needed some big performances starting from here.
The Canadian women are a very tough bunch of players, with their different styles and different rubber sheets and their high skill. Each match against them is a unique challenge that is demanding in all the facets of the game.
You could feel the tension in the air, in every moment of every day, for, until the very end, much was always at stake.
Thank the heavens we have the great Ariel, for she put our first stake in the ground on Day 1 by taking the first tournament. With this, we are even with the Canadians, but now Ariel is out and can no longer help with her play. We must continue onward and upward without her.
I knew any of our three could come through, though it was not clear who it would be, or that it would be at all, for the Canadians had a completely different view of the end game, and were determined to see it through. You could see it and feel it in their demeanor, letting all in attendance know, in the strongest of messages; we are just at the beginning of this fight.
Crazy hard matches followed the second day in the groups, with things going well, then not so well, with each match always uncertain. Our remaining players - Judy, Erica, and Lily - are rock 'n roll, they can really play, and they did just that with the best in spirit and competitiveness.
Coming through best was Lily. She won her group, coming out #1, advancing to the semifinal against the player that heartrendingly beat her the day before in that semifinal, Chris Xu. With two Canadians in the other semifinal, this is it: Lily loses and the Canadians walk away with the big prize, their country gets it for the Olympics, not the U.S.
Its right now, or not at all. It's all Lily now, just Lily, our Lily, out at the table, all right there. Everyone understood this: The sounds of silence.
The heavens must be a generous place, for they gave us Lily Zhang. Against a very confident and poised Chris Xu, Lily did it, she won the match. For all those part of this, at that moment of conclusion, table tennis life can not be better than this.
In the subdued moments that eventually followed, the sober thought that that match was just the semis comes to mind: We have the finals to play but that won't be til tomorrow, the last day. We, and much more importantly, Lily, has to sleep on it.
Those of sport know anything can happen: another day and another match. In this second slot competition, it is their best - the young big gun Anqi Luo - against our best - Lily. With exceptional poise and adaptive thoughtfulness throughout the match, Lily did it again! winning convincingly. In doing so, we get two spots, bringing in the well-deserving Erica into the team event.
We have exceptional U.S. women Olympian representatives here, with Judy contributing very much to this team's success with her most wonderful camaraderie and great competitive flair that set the exactly correct tone for the others to feed off of. Much of what was accomplished here benefited very significantly by the team membership contribution of Judy Hugh: It would not have been the same without her.
On the men's side, it was up-and-down and all around. No eight players could be closer in level, making the matches brilliant displays, with uncertainty thick in the air.
In this competition, our best player was Timothy Wang. He deserves the Olympic spot; he earned it, including that crazy-great last match against the rocket-forehand Hongtao Chen.
To qualify for the North American Olympic Trials, players must be selected for our U.S. National Team. More so than has been true for some long time, we have real teams: real in spirit, real in bonding, real in commitment, real in caring for the others. It is just nutty to think how young they are, how good they are, how exciting they are.
What is not nutty is how proud we are.
The PATT Institute