Still a champion

Updated: 2015-06-06 08:06

By Mao Xi(China Daily)

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Still a champion

Belgian pingpong player JeanMichel Saive with a copy of China Daily European Weekly. [Photo by Gao Shuang / China Daily]

"It's fun," Belgian ping-pong veteran Jean-Michel Saive says, when asked why he keeps playing. "It's a diversion from my regular office work.

"It motivates the youngsters to progress if they can beat me, a former world champion, and it also brings me friendship from all over the world. Plus, I still make a good living out of it."

Saive was born into a ping-pong family. His mother won the Belgian ladies' title while she was pregnant with him, and his father was also a top player in his homeland. He started playing early and was selected for the Belgian national team aged just 13.

Nicknamed by fans Big Saive to distinguish him from his brother, another skilled player, he is best known in China for his long relationship with Chinese coach Wang Dayong.

When Wang first arrived in Belgium, at the end of the 1990s, no Chinese coach had ever trained a European player, and he was not sure he would fit in. However, Saive soon adapted to his philosophy and training methods.

The Belgian says the significant thing about training with Wang was that it gave him an opportunity to understand how Chinese players view Europeans, increasing his chances of winning top matches.

He accepts the Chinese concept of "using forehand attacks as a major weapon, hitting the ball early and taking the initiative in offense", he says, and he was able to nurture an aggressive style.

Wang not only trains Saive in ping-pong, he says, but also in how to be a person. Unlike most coaches and athletes, the duo has stayed together through the bright and dark periods.

Due to his reputation in the sport, Saive has been elected as chairman of the European Olympic Athletes' Commission and is a member of the International Table Tennis Federation Athletes Committee, to name just two of his titles. He says he now sees the ping-pong in a larger picture.

Saive was world No 1 for 515 days, starting February 1994, and the success of his generation of European players led to a surge in young people playing the sport. However, their spotless performances at continental competitions for the past two decades have blocked many newcomers from making a mark.

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