(By Eric Atherton / Photo by Scott Jacobson – PostBulletin)
A little more than two years, ago, the Post-Bulletin published a story about table tennis phenom Michael Tran and his 19-year-old coach, Qi Wei, who came from Beijing to live with the Tran family in southeast Rochester.
It was an interesting dynamic at that time, because Tran needed top-notch training to pursue his goal of someday making the U.S. Olympic team, and Wei’s future as a table tennis coach — and indeed his ability to stay in the United States — would hinge largely on how Tran and his younger brother, Daniel, progressed under his instruction.
Did it work out? In a word, yes.
This fall, the Tran family moved to Houston, where Michael and Daniel are training with and against the best young table tennis players in the nation. (One reason they moved is that there simply weren’t any players in the Midwest who could challenge Michael). Now 14, Michael narrowly missed qualifying for the summer games in Rio, but he’ll be a favorite to make Team USA in 2020.
Wei’s work with the Tran boys has paid off for him, too. Earlier this month, he was named the head coach of the U.S. World Junior Championships boys team, which will compete in Cape Town, South Africa, beginning Nov. 30. This is a tournament for players who are 16 to 18 years old, and Wei said it attracts the best young players in the world.
“This is a really high-level tournament,” he said. “China, Japan, the European nations — pretty much every country sends their best junior players.”
While coaching the Tran brothers, Wei said he got to know many of the best players in the United States, including all of the players he’ll be coaching in South Africa later this month. “Pretty much all of the players know me now,” he said.
One player on the team, Kanak Jha, hails from California and actually competed for Team USA in Rio. “He currently is ranked No. 25 overall in the world,” Wei said. “So he has a chance to do really well when we go to South Africa.”
But regardless of how well the U.S. Junior team does in South Africa, Wei said he’s going to come back to Rochester and stay here for a long time.
“I have a green card now,” he said. “The Tran family invited me to go with them to Houston, but I want to stay in Rochester. If I go to a big city, there are other, bigger sports there that are already established. Rochester is still growing, and I’m staying here because I want Rochester and table tennis to grow together.”
To that end, Wei has established his own training center that is in the process of combining with the Rochester Table Tennis Club, which plays at RCTC. As early as January, he said the goal is to offer more opportunities for youths and adults to play, learn and compete, hopefully at a new site.