Our Canadian Olympic Qualifiers are training with the best Portuguese players, including Apolonia and Freitas. What is their impression of the training and preparations?

Mo Zhang:

I think that I was able to reach new and higher level in the last two months. My footwork and my attack have improved. In my case am preparing for two events, the singles and the mixed doubles. This comes with a lot of responsibilities. Mixed Doubles is a true team effort. Some elements are very specific and apply only to doubles. Some skills are transferable, and they help my singles preparation too, like footwork and decisionmaking. 

There are still ten days before reaching Japan and more than two weeks before the first matches. In Canada and here in Portugal we did prepare well. In Tokyo, we know that we mustface different type of Olympic Games than the ones I have attended before. There will be a lot of restrictions and rules. Mentally, I am ready, too.

Dejan Papic, High Performance Consultant:

So far, I am satisfied with the preparations. In Canada, Mo and Eugene had on average of 24 hours a week practice including 3-6 hours of physical training. This is the right amount of load for 30+ year-old players. They often must deal with minor issues with the condition of their muscles, but that did not result in any major disruption in practice volume.

Jeremy pursued a different course focused more on competitions. During a four-week period in May-June he participated in four consecutive tournaments in the USA with good results.

From the beginning of our preparations, we were looking for more exposure to a variety of highlevel players and to have match-like situations especially for our mixed doubles pair. Attempts to get training partners to Canada were not successful because of the Covid restrictions. It turned out that getting visas for the foreign players willing to come to Canada was an impossible task. We were looking also for one international camp outside of Canada.  Many table tennis teams went into a “bubble” environment. Our plans for training in Japan also did not materialize because of Covid.

We are very lucky and grateful that the Portugal TTA responded positively to our request to practice with their team. I am also informed that many Canadian athletes from other sports gave up on international camps due to Covid.

For 18 days in Porto (Portugal) we have a great training group at the National High Performance Centre. All Portuguese National Team members plus Shibaev of Russia are part of the training. The Portuguese team has great depth and there are quite a few players with a high level besides their five Olympians (Marcos Freitas, Tiago Apolonia, Joao Monteiro, Jieni Shao and Fu Yu). 

Mo and Eugene are experienced players, and they are adjusting fast to new challenges at this training camp. For Jeremy this is will be his first Olympic Games. He is more than 14 years younger than Mo and Eugene. There are a lot of things that he needs to learn and create new habits. He is well aware of it, and he is doing a very good job here. It is clear that Jeremy, as well as Mo and Eugene, have a good technical base and they are able to keep up the practice level with the Portuguese. If we have similar conditions like this in Canada, I am positive that Canada would be competitive with top countries in the world. 

In the past I worked in Ontario with Eugene and Jeremy. Their approach and positive attitude are not a surprise to me. With Mo, I did not work much in the past. However, Mo is the mostpleasant surprise for me. She is practicing very hard. Her improvement is obvious with deep forehand, good footwork and generally better attack. Even more important for me is her attitude, which is very positive. We also have much better communications.

Hong Tao, as a sparring partner and bench coach, is also doing an excellent job. It is not easy for him, as well-known players occasionally provide suggestions and there is a big age difference within the group. He responded very well to these challenges, created a positive training atmosphere. He should get a lot of credit for Mo’s improvement, too. 

It is difficult to predict what will be the result outcome at the Games, but what has been done here and in Canada in the last two months is a big step forward for our team. That kind of attitude and work ethic must become the standard for future years, and not only before major Games