Liu Wei is the winner of seven table tennis world champion titles, with a career-best world ranking of No.3. She retired from the Chinese national team in 1996 after losing the women's doubles final at the Atlanta Olympics.
Born in 1969 in Shandong Province, Liu Wei entered the Chinese table tennis national team in 1983. Between 1991 and 1995, she partnered with Wang Tao to made history as the first team to win three successive mixed doubles titles at the World Team Table Tennis Championships. She was selected as one of the top ten best table tennis players in 1996 and entered the Hall of Fame of the International Table Tennis Federation on May 22, 2003.
After retiring in 1996, she played in Japan for three years and in 1999, Liu Wei took a bachelor's course at the Law School, Peking University after returning to China. In 2003, she initiated the Peking University Founder Table Tennis Club and assumed the position of General Manager, a title she still holds.
|[Photo: Beijing Review]|
With less pressure and attention from the public and the media, she shifted careers smoothly and proficiently, from that of a professional player to a university student and then a businesswoman.
Recently, Liu Wei shares her experiences and views on the sport of table tennis and the coming Olympics in an interview.
Reporter: You have won seven championship titles, domestic and international, during your thirteen-year-long professional career. Which match impressed you the most?
Liu Wei: The women's doubles final at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. My partner Qiao Yunping and I were defeated 3-1 by our teammates Deng Yaping and Qiao Hong. It is actually my lifelong regret that I haven't won an Olympic gold medal although I have seven world championship titles under my belt. A "winner" in the Chinese national table tennis team is a gold medalist. It is the ultimate goal of every player to get a gold medal. But a silver medalist is a "loser".
You were a registered player at the Sakura Bank Club in Japan from 1996 to 1999. Did this experience abroad have any influence on your life afterwards, and on your current job?
It was helpful by and large. I got an offer from Japan's prestigious Waseda University, where I could study and play table tennis simultaneously. But the longer I stayed in Japan the more I realized I should return to China, where my heart and soul is rooted. I love table tennis and played it for some twenty years, but it is still only a part of my life, not my entire life. That is why I chose to get my bachelor's degree at China's Peking University.
My working experience in Japan gave me a better understanding of the management and operation of table tennis clubs there. In addition, I did a lot of research work on the NBA and several European football clubs. There's a closer relationship between sports and marketing abroad, in my opinion, than in China; the promotion of sporting events there is more successful, and the degree of market standardization is higher as well.
Currently, when it comes to table tennis in China, there is much that can be done to better develop the clubs and the market. Table tennis, also known as ping-pong, has been regarded as the Chinese national ball-game for a long time; we have the most number of ping-pong players in the world. But the marketing of this sport, however, has been weak and far from satisfying. The main reason for this, in my opinion, comes from the absence of a team that has a clear understanding of how to operate events professionally on a macro level. For example, the allocation of market revenue becomes a problem when a contradiction between existing management system and marketing occurs. Judging from a marketing perspective, the revenue should flow to the clubs. Judging from a management perspective, however, there will be the risk of losing control if the revenue gets allocated openly. This is the most pressing dilemma that the sports market in China faces.
In 1999, you became a university student. What impressed you most about Peking University?
I noticed that there were three kinds of students in the university: students who came from the traditional education mode and entered the university via the national university entrance examination; students from the traditional sports training mode, who were retired professional players (usually world champions), and entered the university via preferential policy; students with specialties in disciplines such as the arts, sports, sciences, etc., who also entered the university via national university entrance examination.
Personally, I belonged to the second category of student. The life of the third category of student, judging from a more humane perspective, was a combination of advantages from the first two kinds, so it was far more interesting and colorful.
Is this the reason you initiated the Peking University Founder Table Tennis Club in 2003, after your bachelor's degree? As the general manager, how do you manage to combine Peking University (education) and the Founder Group (an affiliate of the Peking University) with table tennis (sports)?
The root idea of setting up a club comes from my fondness of table tennis. I just tried to explore a new model that can combine sports training with schooling. The difference between the new model of sports training and the traditional one is plain to see. Traditionally, a national team player follows a route like this: local amateur sports team -- provincial/municipal professional sports team -- youth national team -- national team. The predominant advantage of such a model is high professionalism; it helps to push the boundaries of sports. Personally, I'm grateful for this model, otherwise I wouldn't be who I am today.
But every coin has two sides. The disadvantage of this traditional model is that it separated sports training from normal schooling. Take myself as an example. Schooling or playing was the only alternative when I first entered the Shandong Provincial Team at the age of eleven. My study performance was good, but I preferred to play, so I followed the above-mentioned route. To be honest, I never felt regret for my choice.
As a member of the national table tennis team, it will always be my honor and pride to play for China, to see the national flag rising and to sing national anthem at the medal ceremony. The sense of achievement that I gained from table tennis will always be the most precious memory of my life. But competition is extremely fierce under the traditional sports training model. There is a risk of elimination in every section of the above-mentioned route. You have to start from the very beginning if you fail to reach the next step.
Personally, it was a pity that I was absent from normal schooling. I was playing hard when my peer mates were studying hard at school. So the new model of sports training that I explore aims to help students to live with both playing and schooling. Hence, I told Peking University that I'd like to initiate a club in 2003.
According to my plan, the Club will rely on the educational platforms that Peking University provides; it will consist of a chain of four teams at different levels. The first team will take part in national tournaments; it will compete, and concentrate on performance, which in turn will make revenue for the Founder Group from advertising and marketing. The second team will represent Peking University in university-level competitions nationwide as well as in the Universiade. The remaining two teams, as reserve forces, come from primary and middle schools that are also subordinated to Peking University.
Development has been promising since the formal establishment of the club in October 2003. Our first team ranked fourth in its debut season of 2005 and climbed one rank higher in 2006. We've been to the United States and visited Harvard University and Yale University to celebrate the 35th anniversary of ‘ping-pong diplomacy'. We've opened table tennis summer camps for primary and middle-school students at home and abroad. Moreover, we plan to cooperate with the subordinate kindergarten of Peking University to promote the new model of sports training.
What do you think are the Chinese national team's prospects at the Beijing 2008 Olympics?
I'm confident of their victory. As I've said before, Chinese players have the smartest techniques; the only problem left is how to deal with huge psychological pressures. It has nothing to do with whether China can win gold medals or not. Rather, it is more important to see how China beat all components.
I am one of the consultants for the national female team in preparation of the 2008 Olympic Games. I know very well that each member, whether player or coach, is challenging her limitations to the maximum, both physical and psychological. They all work so hard. I'm deeply moved and sometimes can't help but to cry for them. I never noticed these difficulties when I was one of the Olympic candidate players.
You have been actively participating in and promoting activities related to the Olympics. How do you assess your role in Olympics?
My enthusiasm towards the Olympics is rooted in my lifelong regret that I haven't won an Olympic gold medal. As for the country, this is a good opportunity for China to show the rest of the world what it is capable of, by organizing a successful Olympics. Table tennis in China is like a shining pyramid. I was a national team player and an Olympic participant who used to reach the top of the pyramid and play for the nation. But now, as time has passed, my role has changed. I prefer to be the cornerstone of the pyramid, as the general manager of a table tennis club. It's my responsibility and honor to contribute to the nation.
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