Lily Zhang is All In on the Road to Pan Ams and Tokyo 2020 Qualification

By Richard Finn | May 06, 2019, 10:23 a.m. (ET)

Lily Zhang USA Table Tennis 2019

 

Lily Zhang is All In on the Road to Pan Ams and Tokyo 2020 Qualification

 

By Richard Finn

 

A lot of things have happened in Lily Zhang’s life in the last few months. All good.

 

In December she graduated a semester early from the University of Berkley and then left for Germany where she is presently playing in the prestigious pro league there.

 

“It was a bit of a last minute decision, but I'm very happy to say that I was able to graduate a semester early from UC Berkeley last December and am currently in Europe competing in the German 1st Division Bundesliga,” said Zhang, a four-time U.S. National Champion in 2012, ’14, ’16 and ‘17.

 

“I had an incredible time in college, but I also found it slightly difficult to juggle academics with table tennis. Europe, on the other hand, is a completely different experience,” continued Zhang. “I get the opportunity to solely focus on table tennis as well as see how the professional system works overseas. I hope I will be able to grow from my experiences here and bring what I've learned back to the U.S. in order to help popularize the sport. 

 

But, even better things could still be ahead of her.

 

“I'm so excited about the next 18 months, starting with the Pan American Games (Lima Peru, July 26-Aug 11) all the way until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” said Zhang. “There's already so much buzz surrounding the Tokyo Olympics and everybody is vying for the chance to make it. I recognize that it will no doubt be a long and hard process, but I'm also really looking forward to the journey.”

 

Zhang is a two-time Olympian already, having competed in the 2012 ad 2016 Games. The Californian is also a Pan American Games veteran, claiming a bronze medal in singles and women’s team in 2011.

Qualifying for both again would still be a very special accomplishment said Zhang.    

 

“It would mean the world to me to be able to return to the Olympics and play in another Pan American Games,” she said. “No matter how many times I go out to compete, it's always such an unparalleled experience and honor to be able to represent the United States internationally.

 

“The Olympics and Pan American Games are both some of the worlds' largest sporting events and to be a part of something so great and important is truly an indescribable feeling.” 

 

Zhang is the “senior citizen” in a group of rising American players who are making their presence felt in international competition today.

 

“It's actually pretty crazy to think that I'm turning 23 this year(birthday in June) , especially since I first joined the U.S. Women's National Team when I was just 12 years old,” said Zhang. “Even though it's already been more than a decade since my debut with the national team, I do feel like this is the beginning of something great for my career and I'm very hopeful for the future. 

 

“I'm extremely delighted about the current status of American table tennis. I'm very lucky to have witnessed it grow enormously since I first started. Not only are our juniors doing incredibly well on the international stage, especially with Amy Wang being ranked #2 in the world for U18 and Kanak Jha winning a bronze medal in the 2018 Youth Olympics, but the men's and women's teams are also making huge strides internationally.

 

“We now have a multitude of players competing overseas in various professional leagues in Europe. I think that table tennis, or sport in general, really boosts self-confidence, teamwork, and resilience against challenges in daily life. With that, I personally really hope to see more girls involved in the sport and continue playing even during or after university.”

 

Good times ahead!