Meet Kanak Jha. He is 16 years old and has already made history. He is the youngest American in the 2016 Olympic games. He is the youngest male table tennis Olympian ever. He is an American who may challenge the Chinese domination in Olympic table tennis.
In April, NBC announced the finalists who made it onto the American Olympic table tennis team. The team is made up of three men and three women, the first time the USA is entering full teams for both men and women. Kanak Jha is second from the left in the front row.
Kanak Jha was born on June 19, 2000, in Milpitas, California, the only American Olympic competitor to have been born in this millennium. His parents are from India. The Indian Express describes Jha’s links with India. His mother Karuna is from Mumbai and father Arun from Allahabad. Rajul Sheth, former Indian table tennis champion, gave up the sport in 2002 and moved to the United States with his wife. Trained in mechanical engineering, he was, however, unable to find a job in his profession. He worked pumping gas at a station in the Bay area in California. A chance meeting with Michael Green, former American table tennis player, resparked his interest in table tennis.
From humble beginnings, Sheth eventually developed the India Community Center (ICC) tennis club into a club that creates champions such as Kanak Jha. It is now the largest table tennis club in the United States and home for the American table tennis team. Interestingly, the current Olympic team coach, Italian Massimo Costantini, was India’s national team coach until 2012.
Emmett Knowlton, Business Insider with The Daily Independent, interviewed Jha and challenged him to a match. After one serve, he conceded defeat and gained some appreciation for the skill involved in table tennis.
“You have played Ping-Pong, almost certainly, and chances are you have stumbled upon a dumbfounding professional rally somewhere across the internet, but you are unlikely to have tweaked your neck trying to keep up with a rally in real time. In real time, watching table tennis is like watching a sport permanently in fast-forward, as if you have sped up your eyes using a filter on Snapchat. You can make out the blur of the ball, sure, but mostly you have no idea what is happening, much less how the players are doing it.”
The North American Olympic qualifying matches were held in Toronto, Canada. Sports Skeeda described the drama of Kanak Jha’s performance in the competition.
“Tied 3-3 at the end of six sets, the teenager trailed 0-5 in the decider, when it was heavily inclined towards the Canadian to run away with the contest. But Kanak had other plans. Tightening his resolve, he seized eleven successive points to clinch the 7th set to surge ahead to the finals, which he later won as well, thereby sealing his place at the Rio Olympics 2016.”
That is the kind of resolve that wins medals.
Today wonders if Kanak Jha will be one of the hopefuls who will be able to break the Chinese monopoly on Olympic Table Tennis. According to Sports Skeeda, Coach Costantini believes the Rio 2016 Olympics will serve more as a stepping stone for Jha, suggesting that he will reach his full potential at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. If so, he will be following in the footsteps of female team mate, Ariel Hsing. Hsing competed in the 2012 Olympics at the age of 17 and is now hoping she will be able to challenge her Chinese competition in Rio.
According to Today, the female Japanese table tennis team has three serious contenders for medals. Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Belarus and South Korea has men listed among the top 10 table tennis players. It appears, however, that the Chinese will nail the gold and silver, with others vying for bronze.
According to the competition schedule put online by the Olympic Committee the male and female teams will begin to complete on August 6 and it will all be over by August 17.
You can watch one of Kanak Jha’s 2016 World Championship table tennis matches to get in the mood for Rio 2016.
[Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP Images]