Table tennis: Swedish great hangs up his bat

Former Olympic and world champion Jan-Ove Waldner, widely revered as the greatest paddler of all time, played his final competitive match on Thursday.
Former Olympic and world champion Jan-Ove Waldner, widely revered as the greatest paddler of all time, played his final competitive match on Thursday. ST FILE PHOTO

STOCKHOLM • Sweden's 50-year- old former Olympic table tennis champion Jan-Ove Waldner played his final competitive game on Thursday to end a glittering career in which he won a slew of world and European titles and became a household name in Asia.

A career spent traversing the globe and beating the best players in his sport ended with a modest league match for his club Sparvagen against BTK Rekord in Stockholm.

In his final outing - more than 38 years after he made his debut in elite Swedish table tennis - he won one singles match and lost the other before being heralded for his achievements by the Stockholm crowd.

"Fantastic. I don't think anyone cares about the result," said Waldner, widely recognised as the greatest paddler of all time.

"I felt at the start of the season that enough was enough," the six-time world champion told state broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

"It was getting to be tough with my back and stuff. I want to be able to play golf with no problems."

He is best known for his Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992 and his decades-long struggles against the best players from table tennis-obsessed China.

Revered for his speed, his swift serve and his incredible control, he earned the nickname "Evergreen Tree" in Mandarin, as he faced - and got the better of - generation after generation of elite Chinese players.

Such was the admiration the Chinese players and fans had for him that in 2013, he received the honour of becoming the first living foreigner to feature on a Chinese postage stamp.

He announced his arrival in 1982 when he lost the European Championship singles final to compatriot Mikael Appelgren.

However, he would overcome that disappointment and go on to win 11 European titles of his own.

Having won the world singles title in 1989, he clinched Olympic gold three years later and snared a silver at the Sydney Games in 2000.

His Olympic career ended in disappointment, however, when he lost the bronze-medal match in 2004 in Athens to China's Wang Liqin.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Swedish great hangs up his bat'. Print Edition | Subscribe