by Wade Townsend
Today Jian Fang Lay became only the second Australian woman to compete in five Olympic Games — alongside beach volleyballer Natalie Cooke. Her game has withstood the test of time and she has adapted as table tennis has evolved over the last two decades.
Lay was also the sole winner from the Oceania contingent in the opening rounds. She overcame Russian defender Maria Dolgikh in a seven game thriller, with some rallies reaching more than 70 strokes. Next she accounted for Austrian left-hander Sofia Polcanova with a four-two win.
This permanent fixture to the world of table tennis isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
By walking on to the court Melissa Tapper made Australian Olympic history as the nation’s first dual Olympian and Paralympian.
It’s a remarkable achievement but just turning up wasn’t enough for Tapper.
Making her Olympic debut against Brazilian Caroline Kumahara, she found herself down 7-0 in the first game and could have let the match slip away, but in typical Tapper fashion fought hard to get back in to the match:
“Yeah, it was difficult every time I lost a point, the crowd was going off. But I think I feel quite comfortable out there; it was a good challenge, the crowd against me. It was a good experience, and I think I held myself well.”
The Aussie eventually went down four-two but the fight will continue for Tapper when the team’s event begins next week.
Fiji’s Sally Yee is the youngest player to qualify for table tennis at the Olympics. The 15 year old made her first appearance on the international stage four years ago and today was just another stepping stone in her sporting career.
Yee may have lost in straight sets today, but the result is inconsequential compared to the experience gained. A taste of Olympics may just be what is needed to start pushing Oceania towards being a competitive force in the future.
And while her tournament may be over, Yee has time on her side and can certainly set her sights on Tokyo 2020 and beyond.