PH table tennis chances still hinge on ageless veteran | Inquirer Sports
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PH table tennis chances still hinge on ageless veteran

By: - Reporter / @junavINQ
/ 05:10 AM February 04, 2022
Richard Gonzales

FILE– Filipino bet Richard Gonzales. RAFFY LERMA

Still playing well despite his age, Richard Gonzales is still considered the biggest hope to snatch the country’s first table tennis gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

Unlike in the past, though, the burden on the 51-year-old Cebuano’s shoulders will somehow ease with the entry of fast-improving Youth Olympian Jann Mari Nayre.

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“Richard isn’t getting any younger and I hope his teammates help him carry the weight in chasing our long-time dream of finally winning a gold medal,’’ said Philippine Table Tennis Federation president Ting Ledesma.

New bright hope

The 22-year-old Nayre is expected to provide that, having consistently polished his skills even with the lack of tournaments in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Gonzales and Nayre are the nation’s entries in the men’s singles of the coming Vietnam SEA Games in May.

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“Gonzales is our usual bet, but Jann has been doing really well lately and I think he could fight for a medal,’’ said Ledesma.

Also a medal prospect in the men’s singles of the coming Games, Nayre can likewise join forces with Gonzales and John Russel Misal in the bid to land atop the podium in the men’s team event.

The local table tennis federation is upbeat in capturing the ultimate prize in the men’s singles after news reached Ledesma that Singapore’s top players have already retired.

The Singaporeans have had a stranglehold on the gold medal in both men’s and women’s singles in the Games since 2007 in Thailand.

“We are targeting two gold medals in the men’s singles and team event. We will be happy and satisfied if we could also medal in the men’s and women’s doubles,’’ said Ledesma.

Overseas exposure

Gonzales, a bronze medalist during the 2014 world championships in London and champion of the Southeast Asian Table Tennis Championships in 2005, claimed two silver medals and seven bronze medals in the SEA Games, but never got to seize the gold.

Training on local soil prior to the May 12 to May 25 SEAG, however, won’t be enough due to the scarcity of worthy competitors, prompting table tennis officials to consider going overseas, which they hope would do the trick for the Filipino paddlers.

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The team would set up a training camp in Austria for six weeks from March 1 to April 15, a move that could provide them with high-level competitions on a consistent basis.

“There are plenty of tournaments there and in nearby European countries. They hardly stopped even with the pandemic,’’ said Ledesma.

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