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European Title at Stake but Much More in Azerbaijan, a Ticket to Rio de Janeiro

European Title at Stake but Much More in Azerbaijan, a Ticket to Rio de Janeiro
2015 1st European Games
Courtesy of ITTF

A European title is at stake, the prestige of being named a European gold medalist is the goal but at the forthcoming inaugural 2015 European Games, there is more; the winner of each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events secures a place in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Proceedings start in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday June 13th with the first three days being allocated to the Men’s Team and Women’s Team events; the last four days, with matters concluding on Friday June 19th, designated for the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles competitions.

Olympic Principle 
The tournament very much follows the Olympic Games principle with four events being staged in the guise of Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, Men’s Team and Women’s Team.

In each of the Men’s Team and Women’s Team events, 16 outfits appear, just as in the Olympic Games, with the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events, having quite understandably slightly lower numbers than in the global gathering. In each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events there are 48 players.

Olympic Format 
However, just as in the Olympic Games, it is three players per team, four singles matches and one doubles with no player competing in more than two matches should the contest go the full distance. Each National Olympic Committee is restricted to a maximum of two entrants in each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events.

Play in all events is conducted on a knock-out basis. In each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events; players seeded no.17 to no.32, compete against players seeded no.33 to no.48 in the opening round. Players seeded no.1 to no.16 enter proceedings in the second round.

In each event the losing semi-finalists face each other for the bronze medal.

The First 
On the concluding day of action, the player who stands on the top step of the medal podium, in each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events will be the first in the multi-sport event.

It is a concept that is no doubt seeking to join the status of the Asian Games and Pan-American Games, as being second only in stature to the Olympic Games.

Will the player who listens with pride to the national anthem being played be one who has secured singles gold at the European Championships?

Many of the predominant names at the continental gathering in modern times are present in Baku.

Strong German Challenge 
Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov is in action in the Men’s Singles event, the reigning European champion, having clinched the title in Schwechat in 2013.

Likewise, his compatriot Timo Boll is on duty, the man who has donned the crown more times than any other player and has set records which one wonders may never be equaled.

Six victories; he won in Zagreb in 2002, in 2007 in Belgrade, the following year in St Petersburg, before in 2010 succeeding in Ostrava and in the next two years in Gdansk and Herning respectively.

Patrick Baum joins Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the Men’s Team event.

Three Wins 
Similarly, the name of Vladimir Samsonov appears on the entry list, three times the European champion; he won in 2005 in Aarhus, two years earlier in Courmayeur, having secured the title for the first time in Eindhoven in 1998.

He lines up in the Men’s Team event alongside Evgueni Chtchetinine and Pavel Platonov.

Mists of Time 
The record of Vladimir Samsonov takes you back into the sands of time but there is one player, who is present in Baku, who takes you event further back and I suspect I don’t even have to tell you the name.

Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive, crowned European champion in Birmingham in 1994, is competing but only in the Men’s Singles event; there is no Belgian outfit in the team event.

Most Senior 
Jean-Michel Saive is now 46 years old but he is not the most senior former European champion on duty in Baku; that privilege belongs to Luxembourg’s Ni Xialian.

Now just one month short of her 52nd birthday she competes in the Women’s Singles event and with Sarah de Nutte and Danielle Konsbruck in the Women’s Team competition.

She was crowned European champion in 1998 in Eindhoven and in 2002 in Zagreb.

Two Oldest Former Champions
Notably the two oldest players in the table tennis events at the 2015 European Games are both former European championships; like a good wine, they are a rare vintage.

Further Winners 
Meanwhile, in addition to Ni Xialian, there are two further European champions on duty in the Women’s Singles events in Baku,

Li Jiao of the Netherlands, who won in Belgrade in 2007 and in Gdansk in 2011, competes as does Austria’s Liu Jia; she clinched gold in Aarhus in 2005.

Both compete in the Women’s Team event; Li Jiao joins forces with Britt Eerland and Liu Jia is supported by Li Qianbing and Sofia Polcanova.

Schedule and Results
2015 European Games Official Site: Schedule of Play and Full Results

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