U.S.’ best-ever Olympic table tennis player unretires, enters Olympic trials

Wang Chen
Courtesy Wang Chen

Next week’s U.S. Olympic table tennis trials are set to include an 11-year-old girl and a 93-year-old man, but perhaps the most intriguing participant is Wang Chen.

Wang, 42, could be called the greatest U.S. Olympic table tennis player. She reached the quarterfinals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, her birthplace, the best-ever finish by an American in a sport that debuted at the Games in 1988.

Long before Beijing, she was twice passed over for the super-competitive Chinese Olympic team, retiring and moving to the U.S. in 1999.

She worked by giving table tennis lessons, was convinced to return to competition, became a U.S. citizen and made the significantly less-competitive U.S. team for 2008.

Wang retired again after fulfilling her goal by reaching the Beijing Games, where she was eliminated in the quarterfinals by a Singapore player.

She returned to her home in New York and to working at the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

She started a family, had a baby boy, Ryan, who is now 4 years old.

Last spring, Wang needed more help running her club. So she hired a coach from Dallas, Yutian Wang, who upon moving to New York decided that he wanted to play at the U.S. Open that July.

Wang agreed to coach and train with him.

“He said, Chen, you’re still good,” Wang said. “He said you should play, otherwise you waste your talent.”

That, combined with a motivation to lose 20 pregnancy pounds, was enough for Wang to unretire. She made her international return at the Czech Open in August, winning two of three qualifying round matches.

“I realized table tennis can keep me younger if I continue playing,” she said.

In November, her son walked onto the court while she played a local tournament against men in Westchester, N.Y.

By December, she reached the semifinals of the U.S. Championships, losing to the eventual champion.

“That was a big leap for me,” Wang said. “I have more confidence.”

She is seeded first in next week’s U.S. Olympic trials in Greensboro, N.C., thanks largely to her results through 2008 as the U.S. table tennis rankings never reset.

The 16 women in the field look to finish in the top three to earn a place in the North American Olympic trials in Markham, Ontario, in April. Nobody will clinch an Olympic berth next week.

But at the North American trials, the top American finisher can earn an Olympic berth.

The U.S. is also in position to earn a spot in the Olympic women’s team tournament, determined in May, which would mean that the top two U.S. finishers at the North American trials would make the Olympic team, with the second American competing in the team event only in Rio.

One U.S. woman has already qualified for Rio, Jennifer Wu, by winning the 2015 Pan American Games. Wu is 17 years younger than Wang.

“If you think about age, you cannot do it,” said Wang, who is attempting to become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s table tennis player. “I don’t think about it that way.”

Missing from the Olympic trials is 2012 Olympian Ariel Hsing, who retired after making the round of 32 in London as the best-placed of three U.S. singles players.

Jimmy Butler, a 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympian who retired in 1998 due to a debilitating muscle condition, came back in 2012 and made the 2015 Pan American Games team. Butler, 44, also retired and will not compete at trials.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final