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A Life Dedicated to Olympic Ping Pong

Posted July. 30, 2008 03:15,   


For the first time in Korea’s 60-year-long Olympic history since the 1948 London Olympics, Team Korea will have a naturalized citizen represent the country.

Her name is Dang Ye-seo, 27, a professional ping pong player originally from China who stands just 158 centimeters high. Dang recently became a Korean citizen, making her qualify for representing Korea at the Beijing Olympics.

Korea has a native cicada called the large brown cicada. A male large brown cicada is just 3.1 centimeters long. Once laid, the cicada lives underground for six years as larva. In the seventh year, it climbs up to the ground, hatching out of its cocoon.

○ Ping pong, the light at the end of tunnel for six “dark” years

The path Dang had to trek to get to where she is today is much like the process of the cicada. She first arrived in Korea as a practice partner for the Korean Airlines team in 2001. But she had to live “beneath” the surface for six years since then. As a Chinese citizen, she could not officially play in a game held in Korea.

Dang was a hidden star already at that time. She was a member of China’s world leading national team. She came to Korea just to play in the Olympics. The internal competition among Chinese national team members was so fierce, though, that she gave up the hope of representing China. The pool of fulltime ping pong players amounts to about 50 in number. Except for a handful of top players, the rest are reduced to practice partners.

Still, she took a big chance on Korea. Dreaming of her day at the Olympics, she endured the “dark” six years. She dedicated her whole life to ping pong during that period, shuttling from her dorm to the gym only. While she has stayed in Korea for six years, her Korean is still “broken.”

Last year she finally received her Korean citizenship, freeing herself from the shackles of being a partner. No one in Korea could match her. She passed as the No. 1 player in the domestic qualifiers. In the Japan Open in May, which constituted part of the Olympic qualifiers, Dang beat Wang Nan, the former world champion who now stands 5th on the world rankings, and qualified for the Olympics. Earlier this year, Dang had no world ranking whatsoever. Now, she stands 26th on the world standings.

○ Dang, the only Korean player that can match China

Dong-A reporters visited the Korean national team’s practicing place in Seoul last Wednesday. But Dang declined our invitation for an interview even during the practice break, so entirely was she focused on the game.

National Team Coach Hyeon Jeong-hwa praised Dang saying, “She’s the only one on our team who has a chance of winning against any Chinese player.” A typical right-handed shake-hands athlete, Dang can adjust the pace of the game at her will. She also possesses wonderful backhand and defense skills, covering all aspects of the sport.

The Korean women’s team now aims at winning a silver meal in the team category, which is to take place for the first time in Olympic history. Of course, Dang will lead. In the group category, athletes of a country compete with those of another country through four singles matches and one doubles match. Korea will pair Kim Gyeong-ah and Park Mi-yeong for the doubles match. A player who competes in the doubles game cannot play one singles match. Thus, Dang has to play two doubles games. She will probably play the first and the last doubles match.

Dang’s whole life has been geared toward achieving her dream of competing in the Olympics. Thus, the rest of it, especially after the Olympics, is open to question. Unlike the cicada that lives only one or two weeks after hatching, Dang’s life has just begun.