Table tennis a tough sport, where high level eye-hand coordination and lightning quick reactions are very important. It is very difficult for players to last more than 10 years at the top level.
However, there have been a few special exceptions. The irrepressible Swede, Jan-Ove Waldner is such a sportsman. He has been playing competitions at the highest level for more than 20 years. His last appearance on the global list was in May 2008 and at that time he was listed at number forty-three.
His first major tournament was the European Championship, where he reached the finals in 1982, at the age of 17. He lost the match to his teammate Mikael Applegren. Waldner is known as ‘the evergreen tree’ in China, where table tennis is a passion. He is given grand receptions whenever he visits China and he is a legend there. People fondly call him Lao Wa in China. He has also been called ‘Mozart of table tennis’, as well as ‘Michael Jordan of table tennis.’
Waldner was born on October 3, 1965 in Sweden. As per the 2008 rankings, he ranks 43rd in the world, while he is at the thirteenth place in Europe. However, he is still number one in his native country of Sweden. He won the World Championship twice, in 1989 and 1997. He also won the gold medal in the Olympic Games conducted in 1992 in Barcelona and a silver medal in 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In 2004 Olympics in Athens, he surprised and impressed everybody by reaching the semifinals at the age of 39.
Waldner is called ‘Mozart’ because of the artistic display in his games. His wide variations in service and service returns, as well as topspin shots, played with ease both with forehand and backhand, are a treat to watch. When Waldner was nine years old, the Swedish Table Tennis Association was impressed with the talent in the young boy and invited him to a training camp. At the age of 12, he made his debut in the Swedish League’s top division. He won his first singles match, beating Dennis Pettersson. Waldner was only 4’ 8” tall at that time and it is said that Pettersson commented, “How can one beat someone one cannot see?”
The formidable Chinese have great respect and admiration for Waldner, lovingly calling him ‘evergreen.’ Let us take a look at some of the comments by Chinese coaches and players on him. China’s head coach, Cai Zhenhua, said, “He shows the world that age isn't a problem for table tennis players and that's why I encourage Chinese veterans Kong Linghui and Wang Nan to carry on.” Former world champion, Jiang Jialiang, observed, “I didn't expect much from him in the 2000 Olympics but he made it to the final. Four years later in Athens, I believed he could pull off some surprises as a veteran good at controlling his rivals and spectators. I felt sorry for his loss to South Korean Ryu Seung Min. He told me in an interview that he would rather lose to South Koreans than Chinese because he wanted to prove Chinese were not unbeatable.” Wang Tao, former Olympic doubles champion, commented, “He had single-handedly confronted six generations of Chinese players. Wherever he is, he is a brand of table tennis. People give him applause no matter he wins or loses. He is a legend, an example, a symbol.”
Waldner gave good wins in the European Champions League and The German Bundesliga. He did however, lose against Ma Long and Zoran Primorac in the 2009 Energis Master Tournament. Waldner was the undisputed king of the German Bundesliga in 2008 as well, winning all matches in both Bundesliga’s of the year! Waldner has taken many courses for the Development Department of the International Table Tennis Federation and is currently the National Coach in the United Arab Emirates.