Sport becomes ever more demanding; prize money grows faster than inflation and the media scrutinises every move with meticulous detail.
Television cameras are here there and everywhere; once upon a time, in the dark ages, there was no instant replay, no wise pundit to analyse every move, no dissection of every breath or blink of the eyelid. Now you can watch sport in the cinema, the television screen, the laptop, the tablet, the telephone and no doubt soon the wristwatch or thumbnail will provide the same facility.
Surely the effect is that the life of a sporting personality should be shorter as time progresses? The pressures inflicted by the media are that much greater. Not only is performance in the sporting arena analysed to the greatest degree but intrusive journalists are always keen to unravel aspects of private life.
Equally, in general sport has become faster; sometimes that is difficult to measure but the records broken at London 2012 Olympic Games suggest that to be fact. The strains on the body are that much greater; for how long can the human body take such pummelling before it surrenders?
Presumably the scenario applies to table tennis; over the years the sport has become faster, more athletic, more physically demanding; yet the theory would seem not apply. Table tennis players are lasting longer! Men and women of character!
Consider the entry list for the Spanish Open which commences on Thursday 17th January, a Euro-Africa Series tournament and the first on the ITTF 2013 World Tour.
The host nation’s He Zhiwen, the top seed, is 50 years old; whilst Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive, the no.2 seed, is 43 years old. History could be made in Spain with the first ever veteran age group player winning an ITTF World Tour (formerly ITTF Pro Tour) Men’s Singles title, as the concept enters its 18th year.
Also, you can add to the list, Christophe Legout of France, next August he celebrates his 40th birthday; that means in 2013 he is eligible for veteran events! In Spain he is the sixth seed.
Fast forward one week to the Austrian Open, the first ITTF Major Series tournament of the year and three notable 40 year olds appear in the Men’s Singles seeding: the host country’s Chen Weixing and Werner Schlager plus Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece. Once promising juniors, they are now venerable veterans.
Furthermore, the phenomenon does not apply only to Europe; it also applies to China. In the past, 30 years of age has been very much the retirement milestone for male players from the world’s super power of table tennis.
Note the entry for the Austrian Open, Ma Lin is the fifth seed in the Men’s Singles event; Wang Liqin is three places below in eighth spot. Ma Lin is now 32 years of age, Wang Liqin is two years older; by European sporting standards that may not be considered old; by the rigours of Chinese sport, it is pensionable.
Equally for the women; now in their thirties Spain’s Shen Yanfei and Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus are playing better than ever! They are improving faster than those a decade younger!
Sport may have moved forward in terms of pressure but as prize money grows, a quarter-final place can still be rewarded with a valuable cheque and as fitness levels grows, so does medical care.
Doctors, physiotherapists, sports psychologists and masseurs are now integral parts of sport, table tennis is no exception; thus despite the pressures of the media, the exertions on the body, top sporting stars may now enjoy longer careers at high level.
Care levels have improved; longer sporting career may well become the norm, table tennis player will last longer.