Ni Xia Lian
European Table Tennis Union

A 1983 world champion will become the oldest Olympic table tennis player ever

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Ni Xia Lian, a 55-year-old, Chinese-born table tennis player for Luxembourg, is set to become the oldest Olympian ever in her sport.

Ni earned Luxembourg a quota spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games by bagging bronze at the European Championships on Wednesday. Ni will fill that spot and compete at her fifth Games next summer, according to Luxembourg’s table tennis federation.

Ni’s first senior medal at a global competition came with China at the world team championships in 1983.

Ni moved to Luxembourg in the 1990s, running a hotel with her husband. She kept competing, with a five-year break between 2002 and 2007, and set a record in 2017 for the longest table-tennis match at 1 hour 33 minutes.

She would already be the oldest Olympic table tennis player if not for He Zhiwen, who was born in China and competed for Spain with the nickname Juanito at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He retired after Rio at age 54, according to the International Table Tennis Federation.

Ni will be 57 next summer, older than any previous female Olympians outside of archery, equestrian, shooting and art competitions, according to the OlyMADMen. Her best Olympic finish was ninth in Sydney in 2000.

Chinese-born players represent many countries in table tennis, including European Games gold and silver medalists, Fu Yu of Portugal and Han Ying of Germany.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Most experienced Olympian in history retires at age 72

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Koreas combine table tennis teams rather than play each other

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HALMSTAD, Sweden (AP) — Ping pong diplomacy is bringing North and South Korea together at the world team table tennis championships.

The women’s teams from the two countries, originally competing separately at the competition in Sweden, decided Thursday to combine their teams rather than play each other in the quarterfinals.

“When I informed the board of directors about this development, the unified team received a standing ovation from the delegates who showed their sign of support to this historic move,” ITTF president Thomas Weikert said.

The move follows intense recent cross-border diplomacy by state leaders at home. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed last week to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

The combined Korean team at the table tennis tournament will next play Japan in the semifinals on Friday.

“(It’s) an important statement to promote peace between our countries through table tennis,” the South Korean team said.

MORE: IOC president meets with Kim Jong Un

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Commonwealth Games set to start with 11-year-old among the athletes

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An 11-year-old table tennis player is one of some 5,000 athletes set to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which open this week in Gold Coast, Australia.

Anna Hursey of Wales could be the youngest competitor in the history of the games, a stat that has gone unconfirmed with records from the earliest editions in the 1930s reportedly incomplete.

The Commonwealth Games are the biggest summer multi-sport competition outside of the Olympics, held every four years. The Opening Ceremony is Wednesday. The Closing Ceremony is April 15.

The U.S. is not part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Instead, the notable delegations competing in Gold Coast are host Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and those that make up Great Britain at the Olympics, led by England.

Most of the sports are also in the Olympics, but some are not, such as lawn bowls.

Usain Bolt competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. The Gold Coast edition is headlined by Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Caster Semenya in track and field, Chad le Clos and Adam Peaty in swimming and Max Whitlock in gymnastics.

Then there is Hursey, the 11-year-old table tennis prodigy from Cardiff with a website and YouTube channel.

Hursey, whose parents reportedly met in the table tennis hotbed of China, started playing when she was 4 or 5 and advanced after receiving coaching in China on a trip with her mother. Her father, Larry, used to play the sport.

The table was nearly the height of her shoulders when she started, evidenced by the YouTube channel, which has separate highlights of Hursey playing at ages 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.

By 2015, the BBC started covering Hursey. A coach told the network that at age 9, she had probably beaten everyone in the under-18 division in Wales.

“Those people [are] not her target,” her mom, Xiuli Zhang, told the BBC in 2016. “Asian countries, those players should be her target. If she can beat them, she probably can be one of the best.”

Hursey made her senior international debut for Wales last year, winning four of six matches in a lower division at the European Championships. She is No. 568 in the senior world rankings and third in Wales. She’s No. 20 in the world under-15 age rankings.

The youngest recorded Olympian was Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 at age 10.

Hursey will be 14 come Tokyo 2020, but it appears unlikely she will be there as a competitor. Not only are there two women in Wales ranked ahead of her, but also four women from England. Plus, Great Britain last fielded a female Olympic table tennis player in 1996, aside from when it hosted at London 2012.

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