Why Ni Xialian is a big name in the Games' table tennis field
Ni Xialian is the oldest table tennis player in the Tokyo Games field at 58 years of age. She has become famous online due to her competitive fire at an advanced age. As she represents Luxembourg, Ni has become an icon amongst the table tennis players in the event.
At 58, it is amazing to see an athlete perform at the top tier of her sport at the Summer Games. Ni is the oldest table tennis athlete to compete in Summer Games history and Tokyo is her fifth appearance. On July 25, Ni played against South Korea’s 17-year-old Shin Yu-bin which was branded as the battle between ‘grandma’ and ‘grandchild’.
Ni lost the match 3-4 but she captured the attention of people around the world. Some interested people found out that Ni was a part of China’s national team back in the day. Her peak was during 1983’s World Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo when she won the mixed doubles title with Guo Yuehua as her partner.
How she made the move to Europe
Ni retired from the Chinese national team in the late 1980s and he made the move to Europe afterwards. She decided to represent Luxembourg, which is a small European country, back in the Sydney Games in 2000. It was a surprise then and she has become an icon in the country, even becoming the flag bearer at the Rio Games back in 2016.
Chinese fans were drawn to her during the Tokyo Games and they even lovingly branded her as a cute auntie. She has even inspired so many people from her homeland to keep working.
Luxembourg has become important to her over the years she has played for the flag. She said, ‘The national team of Luxembourg needs me. If I agree to stay, the Luxembourg Olympic committee will allocate funds to the ping pong association, and kids will be supported to play this sport. So how can I refuse them? They also told me my spirit is a good example for kids’.
Ni’s regimen at her age
At her advanced age, Ni does not train much due to the strain that it can bring to her body. She is self-aware enough to know that she will struggle but she continues to work hard and earn her spot in the Summer Games field.
Ni said, ‘A teenage athlete can exercise for over 10 hours a day while I only exercise for a combined 10 hours per week. I will likely get injured or sick. I know where my limit is, but I cannot breach it. Sometimes I feel helpless’.
It is unclear if Ni will return for another run at the next Summer Games but it looks like she can still play in the top tier of table tennis.
Words: Cholo Martin