No country in the world has won more Olympic medals than the United States, but none of the thousands of American medals have ever been won in table tennis.
Shigang Yang hopes the first will come from one of the athletes trained at his facility outside of Atlanta.
âEach Olympics is a four-year cycle, so they have to start preparing four years ahead,â Yang said.
Yang took over the academy in 2009 and has been a cornerstone of the community ever since.
âIt’s a sport for life,â Yang said. “It’s good for your health. We have the youngest at five and the oldest who come here are 80.”
A good volley of table tennis has a familiar sound; the one the kids at the Atlanta International Table Tennis Academy have heard since they were young.
âI was nine when I started,â said academy student Sabrina Zhu.
âI started playing when I was about eight years old,â said Ethan Ruan, another student.
At a club that produced two Olympians – Yijun Feng, who competed for Team USA in 2016 and Jeremy Hazin, who just represented Team Canada in Tokyo – everyone is interested in the generation. according to them.
âI started playing table tennis and it was okay, but after two or three years my coach really started pushing me,â student Daniel Ng said.
Next thing you know, Ng represents America in tournaments around the world, just like his friends Zhu, Ruan, and Andrew Yang.
âI’ve trained with people who are on the US team or have been on the US team or the Olympic team,â Zhu said. “It was a really good opportunity for me because I learned a lot from them and seeing how they train every day really motivates me to keep training too.”
The best thing is that this fantastic quartet can do it all together.
âNot only is the training great and competitive and you can train and become better, but it’s also great because you can share moments with your friends, eat out and bond,â said Ruan.
âEvery time I walk into the club, I always like to see everyone so excited about table tennis,â Zhu said.
These young people are still ahead of the Olympic road; a trek that can become much more difficult than what they have been through so far, if they choose to do so.
âOlympic players are very focused on this sport,â said Yang. âThey will train really hard, maybe five or six hours a day. Before the Olympics, they are ready to concentrate and give up on other things.
Andrew Yang knows this firsthand. He is Shigang’s son and was on the US national team when he was just ten years old.
âIt’s basically like passing the torch,â Andrew said. âIt’s like taking responsibility for your career and your heritage.
It’s a legacy shared with his lifelong friends at the academy.
âSeeing how passionate people are about improving their level and how determined they are to keep training and doing their best, it really inspires to keep playing everyday and doing my best as well, âZhu said.