SINGAPORE – Egypt’s Hana Goda was just 14 years and seven months old when she made history by becoming the continent’s youngest champion with her victory at the 2022 International Table Tennis Federation Africa Cup.
Along the way, she beat her compatriot and one of her idols Dina Meshref as well as Nigerian legend Olufunke Oshonaike.
Now, the Egyptian teenager is eyeing the international stage as she targets a medal at the world championships and Olympics as well as a top-10 world ranking.
World No. 39 Hana is part of Egypt’s steady rise in women’s table tennis world rankings, with four in the top 60. They are also Africa’s top players, with Nigeria’s Fatimo Bello next in line at world No. 66. All competed at the Singapore Smash 2023.
Their recent surge up the rankings gives hope the Egyptian team can soon challenge for medals at major competitions, said Hana.
She told The Straits Times: “It’s very nice that there are a lot of Egyptian players (in the top ranks) and this makes a lot of people more interested in having their children play the sport.
“Everyone is starting to like table tennis more. It’s very nice to see because we want to, some day, be one of the top five teams in the world. That’s our dream.”
Two-time African Games champion Meshref, 28, attributed the improvement in standards to more opportunities to train or compete overseas and a switch in attitudes towards sports as a profession.
She noted that while table tennis was popular as a hobby in Egypt when she was a child, it was usually not pursued internationally.
Her parents, both former national players, did not compete at the Olympics due to political reasons, she added, though she does not remember which edition it was.
Meshref, who was knocked out in the second round in Singapore, said: “They went for maybe one or two international tournaments in a year. Now we’re participating in many more international events than before and have training camps too in Germany or China.
“That has really made a difference because we see how others are, so we know what’s missing and what we need to work on.
“The Egyptian team’s results have also been improving a lot and... that’s what made the sport grow even more recently.”
Egypt won just one of seven golds on offer at the 2007 African Games, but they have vastly improved, bagging four of seven at the latest edition in 2019 to top the standings for table tennis.
Meshref added: “There’s been more importance given to sport compared to during my parents’ generation when it wasn’t the main thing. My parents had day jobs but I’m a full-time table tennis player.
“The mindset has changed and it can just be a career alone, so that’s also motivating for other players to improve and work harder to reach the high level.”
The increased overseas opportunities have also helped raise the overall quality of the team when the players practise together, said 22-year-old Mariam Alhodaby, ranked 52nd in the world.
The 2021 African Table Tennis Championship women’s singles winner added: “When I was little, I was always looking up to Dina because she has been at the top since she was a kid. It motivated me to start becoming better so that I can be on her team.
“Hopefully, young players can see it is not impossible to reach a high ranking and they will work hard to continue this.
“We’re very much looking forward to (challenging for medals at major competitions) and I hope we can do something big for Egypt.”