(by Steve Hopkins)
When was he last time THAT happened?
When was the last time Fan Zhendong won a World Championship? For a player who currently tops the ITTF rankings and who has seemingly won just about every title there is, it may be surprising that Sunday was the first Singles World Championship for Fan. He was the world’s youngest World Table Tennis Champion (in the Team Championships in 2014) and he was the youngest ITTF Tour Champion, and he has logged well over 20 tour titles since then. This was Fan’s third Singles Medal (having won Silver in 2017 and Bronze in 2015), and if you add in his Doubles Medals (Men’s Doubles Gold in 2017 and Silver in 2015, and Bronze in Mixed in 2019), that adds up to five previous Medals. B – but this was the first World Championship in Singles for Fan Zhendong.
When was the last time an American Medaled at the World Championships? Lily Zhang’s run as a part of a China/USA Ping Pong Diplomacy Pairing in this year’s Mixed Doubles resulted in a Bronze Medal. The last American to Medal was 1959 (a Bronze by Dick Miles). Leah Thall won a Bronze in 1951 (the last American Woman to medal in Singles), and that same year she won Bonze in Doubles with Peggy Ichkoff (the last two American Women to win a medal). The last time an American team won a medal in Mixed Doubles was 1949 (Marty Reisman and Peggy McLean). Lily’s medal is historic – historic for America, historic for an American woman, historic for an American in Doubles.
When was the last time a Swede played in the Singles Final? The answer to that one is simple – there was a Swede in the Singles Final in 2019 too. That is, this is two Championships in a row where a dominate Chinese player advanced to face a surprise Swede. In 2019, that surprise was Mattias Falck, and this year the surprise was Truls Morgard. Before 2019, it had been 20 years since Sweden won a medal (Jan-Ove Waldner’s Bronze in 1999), and it had been since 1997 since Sweden had made the Final (Waldner won in 1997).
When was the last time a Gold Medal went to Sweden? In addition to Swedish success in Singles, one of the biggest surprises of the tournament was a Doubles Gold Medal by Mattias Falck and Kristian Karlsson. The pair defeated two top Chinese teams, and then topped the Korean squad in the Final. The win, was the first Gold for Sweden since Waldner’s Singles Win in 1997, and it was the first Gold in Doubles since 1991 (Peter Karlsson and Thomas Von Scheele).
When was the last time China didn’t take home Singles Gold? Fan Zhendong’s Men’s Singles win was the 9th consecutive title for China and the win by Wang Manyu was the 14th consecutive Women’s Singles title for China.
When was the last time the USA Hosted a World Championships? The answer is NEVER – The US has never hosted a World Championships. With Kanak Jha making the Final 16, and Lily Zhang scoring a medal in Mixed Doubles, this was one of the best Championships in recent years. Perhaps hosting has a positive effect – the crowd, the conditions, familiarity, avoiding travel, even other factors like altitude could all affect the level of play and provide an advantage to players from the host country.
When was the last time we heard “USA, USA” chants at a World Championships? The answer to this question may be impossible to verify – as some quick research showed it wasn’t a common chant by American fans until the 1970s, but that the earliest recorded use of the chant was earlier in this Century. The combination of the chant not being common before the 70s, and the US not having lots of success during that period means its unlikely that “USA, USA” has filled any World Championships hall. That said, we heard the chant this time helping our athletes and the crowd in Houston may have been the first crowd to use the chant at a World Championships.