Bitzigeio Takes Long Range View of Current USA Success

By Richard Finn | Aug. 14, 2018, 9:48 a.m. (ET)

As the calendar turns shortly to fall and the end of the year, a review of the 2018 season so far already provides a string of individual and team highlights for the USA on the international stage.

“The adults have played a very good World Team Championships for our current level of performance, our youngsters have achieved a historic result on the continental level at the Pan Am Junior Championships, and even our youngest kids have done well on the world level in the ITTF World Hopes program,” said Joerg Bitzigeio, USATT High Performance Director.

At the Pan Am Junior Games, the USA took home a bushel of gold medals in boys’ singles, girls and mixed doubles along with silver in girls’ singles. Team USA finished 13th in the women’s World Team Championships with the men also finishing better than it did two years ago.

USA Nationals singles three-peat champion Kanak Jha continues his march up the world rankings and is currently at No. 64. Lily Zhang and Wu Yue lead the USA women. Jha and Amy Wang will be at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in October and Yue and Jha will be at World Cup events also later this year.

Bitzigeio sees similarities as well as marked differences in the progression of Jha and Wang.

“People sometimes forget that both are actually still very young by being 15 years (Amy) and 18 years (Kanak). I think we have to look at both athletes and their aspired future development currently differently as the two have opted for a different path,” said Bitzigeio.

“Three years ago Kanak made the decision to become a professional athlete in the future and for that reason dared to take the step abroad to work under professional conditions in a high-quality training group with an international top trainer there, currently in Germany,” explained Bitzigeio. “Almost at the same time, he completed his school education in parallel and graduated from high school this summer with a good result. His current path is clearly focused on being successful on world level as an adult and we also trust him to do so, because he works very hard for it and he also fits in well in our requirement profile and our orientation of the new structure, which is why we support him as much as possible.

“For Amy, it looks different, she's a little younger, and she doesn’t currently see this path that Kanak has been going for three years already, meaning making this step into a foreign, more professional and better training environment, and so expectations of her should be different,” said Bitzigeio.

While Bitzigeio is excited about the current level of play from the USA players, he has a realistic assessment of where Americans stand today.

“We have to be honest with ourselves and that means that within the next two years, we will not be able to reach the level necessary to really play for anything and I’m talking about a result towards quarterfinals or more, “ he said. “Of course, this doesn’t mean that with our team there we will not strive for the best possible result and give everything we have, including an intensive and focused preparation, but personally I see this Olympic Games in 2020 as a major tournament on the road to 2024 and 2028 to gain important experience there.”

Adopting that attitude, Bitzigeio is building the program with a focus on the distant future.

“Since I’m exclusively, or better said, mainly interested in long-term development, we are talking about a targeting on 2024 and 2028, and as we are trying to build up and develop the urgently needed new structures that we started to develop just 12 months ago and which are fundamentally long-term oriented, it is absolutely not crucial for me how we performed right in the beginning of this process in a short period like the last half year,” explained Bitzigeio.

“As I have already mentioned several times, we think and work on long-term goals that last much longer than just two years, meaning, the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 is not really our target event which may sound weird to some people.”