Bowen Chen Maryland Table Tennis Center: Running Toward His Goals
(By Larry Hodges)
Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap—Bap. That’s the sound of Bowen running, feet pounding the pavement, eating up the miles. There’s also bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, POW!!!, the sound of him drilling. He does both, day after day, as part of his training. He’s running to get in even greater shape—if that’s possible—but more importantly, running to achieve his goals.
A few years ago, Maryland Table Tennis Center was looking to hire top level practice partners and elite athletes to sponsor, and made an offer to him, and he accepted. And so began life in America. Other than a tournament in Indonesia, it was his first time leaving China. He spoke little English, but after a lot of practice during the last few years, he speaks it fluently, with only a slight accent. His Chinese name is Chen Bo Wen, but he was quickly christened “Bowen” by local players. And so he made the transition from full-time athlete in China to full-time training partner in United States of America.
As a training partner, he was sacrificing something very important to him: his own table tennis playing career. After all, he’s only 18. And so last year he made the decision to cut down on hours as a training partner so he could focus equally on his own training. He still puts in 40 hours, but now most of it is training to bring his game to the next level. Because he wants to be an Olympian—a USA Olympian. His goal for now is to break 2700 level and reach top three in the country among all players. “I want to become a world-class player and travel around the world,” he added. And so he’s back to what he did in China – long hours of training. He mostly trains with Wang Cheng and Alex Ruichao Chen.
He’s been called “Mr. Athlete.” (He’s famous for his incredible standing long jumps.) He weight trains, does pushups, sit-ups, and pullups—and runs. Five days a week he does 45 minute runs. That’s at least seven miles for him, probably more.
Bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, POW!!!
He also plays lots of tournaments to gain valuable playing experience, not to mention some prize money. Since March, 2016 – less than 19 months – he’s played in exactly 30 tournaments, with his rating mostly ranging from 2550 to 2600. (His highest was 2609.) And he’s won a lot of them. This year so far he’s won Open Singles at the 4-star Robopong September Open, the Winter Challenge Open, made the semifinals of the 5-star Edgeball Chicago International Open and the 4-star Badger Open, won the Triangle Summer Teams, and the Maryland State Men’s Singles and Doubles Championships. Last year he had a win at the U.S. Open against 2015 U.S. Men’s Champion Yijun Feng. He’s won eight MDTTC Opens so far, including three this past year. (See complete USA title listing at end of article.) Fortunately, many of the tournament directors give him hospitality, which cuts down on his tournament expenses. (But he’s still hoping for sponsorship.) His primary focus now is competing at the highest level – reaching that elusive 2700 level and becoming a USA Olympian.
When I asked what he’s currently working on to reach those goals, I laughed when he said, “To improve my physical fitness.” But it’s that type of attitude—taking something where you already are at the top and wanting to make it better—that leads to great results.
When I asked what he’s working on in his table tennis game, I again laughed when he said he wanted to improve his footwork, which is already among the fastest in the country, and which he said was the main emphasis of his training in China. He’s a righty two-winged penhold looper, with a reverse penhold backhand, like most top penholders these days, though there are few in this country. He greatly favors his forehand, racing all over the court to rip them against anything. On the backhand he mostly loops, but also blocks and often fishes and lobs. He’s sort of a righty Xu Xin.
So what can he do to improve his game, other than taking physical fitness and footspeed to the stratospheric level? He said he’s also working very hard on his short game, and on his forehand to backhand transition. He wants to make his backhand much stronger, “Like Wang Hao,” he said, the Chinese superstar who became Men’s Singles World Champion when Bowen was eleven, and inspired him to emulate that style. It worked for Bowen, and he made the Guangxi Province Junior Team at age 14, shortly before he came to the United States. Penholders historically have had powerful forehands, but with the reverse penhold backhand many of them (such as Wang Hao and Xu Xin) have backhands that match or surpass most shakehanders, as Bowen’s backhand does against most U.S. players. (Here’s a video of Bowen explaining his grip.)
When he’s not training, he plays basketball and pool, and listens to Chinese songs and rock music. He loves spicy food. He recently got his first car, a red 2017 Ford Mustang, which will help with travel, which he loves to do, especially when going to tournaments.
So look for him at many four-star tournaments around the country, often with the red Mustang parked outside, listening to music and eating that spicy food on the sidelines, and racing around the court with one of the most athletic games in the country. And maybe, just maybe, after years of training, you’ll also see him on the podium somewhere as a member of the USA Olympic Team.
Bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, bap-bap, POW!!!
Chen Bowen’s USA Playing Record
• 2017 Robopong September Open Champion (4-star)
• 2017 Triangle Summer Two-Person Teams Champion (4-star)
• 2017 Winter Challenge Open Champion
• 2017 Edgeball Chicago International Open Semifinalist (5-star)
• 2017 Badger Open Semifinals, and Open Doubles and Under 2600 Champion (4-star)
• 2017 Arnold Challenge Quarterfinalist
• 2017 Cary Cup Quarterfinalist (4-star)
• 2017 Maryland State Men’s Singles and Doubles Champion
• 2016 U.S. Open Men’s Singles Final 16
• 2016 North American Teams Semifinalist
• 2016 Badger Open Quarterfinalist (4-star)
• 2015 Potomac Fall Open Champion
• 2015 Cary Cup Division A Semifinalist
• 2013 Eastern Open Finalist
• 2013 Junior Olympics Under 16 Boys’ Singles Finalist
• 2013 US Open Under 21 Men’s Singles Quarterfinalist
• 2012 Badger Open Semifinalist, Doubles Champion, and Under 18 Champion
• 2012 US Open Cadet Boys’ Singles Finalist and Men’s Singles Round of 16
• 2012 US Club Championships Finalist
• 2011 KASIH BANGSA International Championships (Indonesia) – Junior Runner-up
• Eight-time MDTTC Open Champion (including last three in a row)
• Three-time Potomac Open Finalist and three-time Semifinalist