Jun Gao knows a little something about being an Olympian.
After all, she played in the world’s biggest sports spectacle four times during her illustrious Hall of Fame career – in 1992 for her native China and then in 2000, 2004 and 2008 as a naturalized United States citizen.
As the world No. 2 player in 1992 (Barcelona Olympics), she won the silver medal in women’s doubles. In 2008, wearing the red, white and blue, she advanced to the top 16 in singles and finished fifth in the Team event.
So, when she talks about what it takes to become an Olympian, Gao does from years of experience and it all comes down to one thing for her – hard work.
“It is important that when I say hard work, I don’t mean one day, one week, or one month. It is years of hard work that matters,” Gao wrote in an email to USATT officials from her home in Covina, California where she teaches at her namesake club.
“Hard work also does not just equate to train hard and one would also need to train smart,” Gao continued. “Furthermore, one must compete regularly and also work “hard” for each point, game and match.”
A player must work hard both in the physical aspects of the game as well as in the mental part stressed Gao.
“Physical fitness is also very important and one must work hard to ensure his or her physical body is well,” wrote Gao. “Lastly, mental hard work is equally important. A good athlete often means that the athlete has been defeated many times before but s/he prevails by working hard to improve and continues to excel.”
Today as a coach of some of the country’s most promising youngsters including Erica Wu, Rachel Yang and Grace Yang and as the team coach for the 2017 Pan American Junior girls’ team, the 48-year-old Gao has an optimistic, but realistic outlook for the future of U.S. table tennis in international competitions including the Olympics.
“With hard work, support from parents, coaches and community, and tremendous amount of luck, a US player would always have a chance,” Gao wrote.
“However, it is important to point out that the competition from China, Germany, Japan, and other countries is fierce and relentless. In table tennis, one should never give up, regardless the level of greatness from the opponent. While there are much unknown in the game of table tennis, there is one thing that I know for sure, which is a good table tennis athlete would never be the player that give up.”