Aili Elliott

Aili was a member of the resident training program in Colorado Spring and came to the sport through her parents. Li, played classic pips-out penholder and held the table better than any player in US history except for maybe Patty Martinez Wasserman.

Her secret was father Ai Liguo would place a non-forgiving 6-foot green metal barrier 2 ½ feet behind her in practice to make sure every one of her strokes went forward.  Li never backed up no matter whom she played.

RTP manager Larry Hodges mused, "When I joined the Resident Training Program, I was a top player and thought I was beyond losing to little girls. And then I played 12-year-old Li Ai. Oh God, I hope there were no witnesses!!! But she was an incredibly hard worker, and it was fascinating watching her get better and better, almost session by session."

Li was asked how tough was it having her parents as her coaches? – Her reply was, “Tough, tough, tough! Especially since I had no natural talent for the sport, or any sport. Through it all, I became stronger physically and mentally. I also felt I was an important member of their coaching team, and at times I would help out in their lessons.

While I am sure local Colorado Springs Players like Larry Rose enjoyed having Li at as a sparing partner while taking lesson, it was never fun to deal with Li’s high-altitude smashes and angled blocks.

RTP Teammate and Triangle Table Tennis Coach Brian Pace further shared, “She was a strong training partner, and a fierce competitor. Again, in American sports, we didn't compete against girls, and Li did not care at all. Li had those eyes that stared right through as she prepared to serve. Then she served the ball deep, and SMASH all the spirit right out of you. She snatched my soul of out my body my entire sophomore year. It would take an entire school year before I could keep my soul in my body and beat her. So, Li I thank you for allow me to keep my soul intact. I love you too, pip out Smasher.”

Li excelled in the juniors, winning not only junior events, but also a $500 grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation for qualifying as a 14-year-old to women’s Team for the 1989 World Team in Dortmund, Germany. The women’s team finished 12th and the men 20th.  Let’s hope we will return to those placing again some day!

1989 was a good year for Li after playing in the Worlds, she won the US Open under 16 & 18 plus became the youngest at age 15 to win Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles at the US Olympic Festival in Oklahoma City.  As her Mixed doubles partner in OKC, I must say how much fun it was setting her up and letting her finish the ball enroute to our Gold Medal.

Li continued her winning ways in 1989 taking the Hall of Fame Women’s Singles and then winning the U2300 Women’s Singles at the US Open before pulling off the hat-trick at the 1990 US Olympic Festival by winning Women’s Singles, Doubles and Mixed while defending her 1989 singles title.

Li qualified for the 1991 Pan Am Team to Cuba along with Lily Yip, Diana Gee and Insook Bhushan. The women dominated Team play as expected, but Lily and Li had a special surprise up their pips-out penhold sleeves as they dethroned Diana and Insook to take the Gold.

Li commented, “The odds were against us. Lily's strategic guidance and level-headedness gave me confidence. In the end, I was just relieved that I did not screw up.”  Lily provided: “Li and I played really well together even though it was the first time we paired up. Beating teammates like Diana and Insook was very difficult because they had so much experience and were former Pan Am champions in 1983 and 8 x US Champions.”

Li continued to play strong after the Pan Ams and qualified for the 1992 North American Olympic Trials in Colorado Springs, Unfortunately for Li, Veteran Insook and Lily qualified with Diana making in doubles.

Like RTP teammate Diana & Lisa Gee, Li persevered with her studies and graduated from the University of Colorado after retiring from competitive play in 1992 with a Bachelors in Business Administration in 1996. Li Currently lives in Denver with her husband and two boys.

In conclusion, I asked her what advice would you give to juniors?

“Have fun. And if you want to be good, show up. Show up consistently to training, even if you don't feel like it. Your struggles, frustrations, and losses are guideposts in your journey to become better.”

Aili's Acceptance speech