(by Steve Hopkins)
The PongNOW interview (or “pongcast”) series discusses table tennis with some of the best players and personalities in the sport.
In this edition, Sean O’Neill shares a story of perseverance at the Nationals, an important match at the Olympics, and his favorite doubles story.
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With low expectations, Sean managed to reach the Finals of the Nationals where he narrowly defeated Jimmy Butler. He credits Chartchai Teekaverakit, acting as his coach, in helping him to regain focus and win his first National Championship. The following year, Sean returned from Sweden at the top of his game and faced Chartchai in the Final. Chartchai was out of practice and had not put in the same work or effort – but he fought hard and after Sean lost focus, it was Chartchai who won the title. As Chartchai and Sean lived together, for the next year Sean had to see the first place trophy he didn’t win – and he used it as motivation to become a better player and the result was four more National Championships titles in the following five years.
In the Olympics, Sean found himself faced off against Yoo Nam-Kyu, the gold medalist from the previous Olympics. The two had practices many times together as they were on the same Angby team in Sweden. In previous meetings, Yoo had dominated the matches. On this day, after starting strong, Yoo lost focus and Sean found himself tied after two games and the third game was even to 19 all. Sean pushes a ball across Yoo’s body to his backhand and time stopped as the two made eye contact and the quickness of Yoo stepped around the ball and scored a clean winner. The match, and Sean’s Olympic run, ended on the next point.
Sean also shared his favorite doubles story, where he teamed with Tahl Leibovitz and the two advanced further than expected. As the final approached, Sean readied himself mentally and physically as he always had. Tahl, on the other hand, found himself on less familiar ground and he resorted to an unexpected strategy to prepare for the match.
A special thank you to Sean for sharing these stories.
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