Between them they’ve won a phenomenal 12 Paralympic table tennis gold medals, including two at Tokyo 2020 where they represented Australia for the first time.
Yet, the value of Yang Qian, Lina Lei and Ma Lin in the national set-up seems much greater than the medal bonanza that steered the Australian team to its greatest Games success.
“One thing they’ve brought is just that air of confidence about what it takes to win a gold medal,” national head coach Alois Rosario said.
“Having done that before, they bring that expertise and knowledge. For the other guys to be training side by side with them, being in a team environment, being involved with them and learning some of their behaviours, it’s been great.”
Those gains will be examined at the 2023 Oceania Para Championships in Honiara, Solomon Islands, next month, where Paris qualification spots will be up for grabs.
Table Tennis Australia has selected a strong 15-player squad for the tournament, including several players with Paralympic experience, including Melissa Tapper, Sam Von Einem, Nathan Pellissier, Jake Ballestrino, Trevor Hirth and Danni Di Toro. They are complemented by an exciting group of rising players aiming to earn a spot on the team for Paris 2024.
“The group as a whole is very talented,” Rosario said. “It’s going to be an interesting and important competition, particularly for a few of our players. For Yang Qian and Melissa, they’ll go head-to-head and the winner of the Class Singles gets an automatic spot to Paris, which is huge, obviously.
“For Chris Addis and Caleb Crowden, in the wheelchair classification, if they go head-to-head and one of them wins the event, it’s an automatic ticket to Paris. If neither of them wins, it goes back to the highest world ranking at the end of March next year.”
Among other players looking to impress are Yasir Hussaini, who arrived in Australia as a child refugee from Afghanistan, and Junjian (Jessy) Chen who will return to the Solomon Islands for the first time since he and his family escaped the nation’s political violence in 2006. Below them are several developing players underpinning a strengthening Para-table tennis system.
“In Tokyo we finished second on the medal table and that was really out of the realm of possibility heading into those Games. To do that was great,” Rosario said.
“Now the rest of the world looks at Australia and they see the talent we’ve got here and also the talent that we’re developing, our emerging and podium-potential athletes. It’s nice to be respected on the world stage.”
While the addition of Ma Lin, Yang Qian and Lina Lei from China has helped catapult the Australian team up the charts, Rosario can take credit too, for his work tapping into the expertise on offer from Paralympics Australia, headed by Performance Insights and Innovation Lead Dr Ross Pinder.
“A lot of sports are quite insular in the way that they think,” Rosario said. “But having someone come in from outside the sport is great because they look at it with fresh eyes and look at what you’re doing.
“Having Ross look over my shoulder and have that discussion afterwards about why we’re doing things a particular way is really powerful. It makes you reconsider the things that you once thought were a given.”
2023 Oceania Para Championships, to be played in Honiara, Solomon Islands from November 17-20.
The Australian Team:
Sam Von Einem
Danni Di Toro
By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 25 October 2023