Chinese Ping Pong Player Heading to Olympics from New York

Yue Wu (Photo via World Journal)

Yue Wu (Photo via World Journal)

Yue Wu, a former member of the Ping Pong Team of Beijing City, China who immigrated to New York a few years ago, won a gold medal in Women’s Singles in the Pan American Games held this summer in Toronto. This offers her an entry ticket to Team U.S.A heading to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. The 25-year-old who became a U.S. citizen last year is the second female ping-pong player to secure a position on the national team that will compete in Rio. Wu was honored by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz a few days ago.

Wu won her qualification for the Olympics by winning a series games. First she played in a three-day selecting game in Texas where the first place winners on each day qualified for the Pan American Games, from which only gold medal winners can join Team USA.

Wu was born in Beijing in 1990 and started to learn ping pong when she was 7 years old. In the cold winters there, her fingers were often too stiff to stretch out after she held the paddle for too long. That became part of her memory about her childhood. Wu said she started playing ping pong a little late. She was selected from the sports school of her borough to the school of the city, and then the Beijing City Team. From 2003 to 2008, she was the partner selected to practice with top players Yining Zhang and Ning Ding when they were preparing for the national and international competitions. Still Wu said it was difficult to stand out from her extremely competitive teammates in Beijing.

In 2008, Wu was facing a tough choice in her career. She could either go to college in China or come to the U.S. Having spent her whole life in the confines of a canteen, dorm and gym, Wu was curious about life abroad. “If I chose to stay in China, the best future I could get was to become a coach. And then life would be the same when I was in my 20s and in my 50s. So I decided to leave,” said Wu.

Since Wu got into the sports school in China when she was 15, she has become financially independent. In the U.S., her living expenses are higher. But she still doesn’t like to ask for help from her parents. Instead, she has been making money to support herself by teaching ping pong. At first, she played at Wang Chen Table Tennis Club in Manhattan. Two years later she started to play independently while teaching at the same time. This way, she makes about $2,500 per month, narrowly covering her bills. “It is a tough life. But I enjoy it,” she said.

Unlike in China, where athletes are taken care of by the government very well and only have to focus on practicing, living alone in the U.S., Wu has to arrange her own life. From opening a bank account to paying the electricity bills, all these daily trivia distract her. She used to go to a language class to learn English as well. But then she found she couldn’t manage to do so much at once, so she gave up the course.

The mixed-gender competition style in New York is stressful for Wu. In order to get the $2,000 cash award for the winner, she has to compete with more and more strong male players who are also from China. This is quite challenging for a female player, and frustrates Wu at times. “The saddest moment in my life is when I lose a game. When I had just arrived here, I had to rely on the award money from games to pay my bills. So I had to create new techniques and practice very hard in order to win. Still it was hard to win against the male players,” she said.

During that time, Wu was under enormous pressure. Her weight quickly grew from 119 pounds to 143 pounds. And she missed home so much. When she visited her family in Beijing, she started to wonder whether she should stay or go to some European countries to join the ping pong clubs there.

At this time, Wu shared her struggles with Chunjun Shi, a ping pong coach she trained with when she was in China and bumped into again in New York. Shi immediately called Kaixuan Ma, another Chinese ping pong coach who has been teaching in the U.S. for 20 years. The two coaches sat down with Wu and went through her options together with her. They told her there are too many highly competitive ping pong players in Europe, and it would hard to make a name there. They encouraged Wu to stay in the U.S. and keep up her hopes. This conversation gave Wu the impetus to stay in New York, become a U.S. citizen and a registered American athlete, and now fulfill her dream of going to the Olympics.

Shi, a player from Taiwan who won many games in the U.S., said: “During my time, because of political reasons, no matter how good you were, a Taiwan ping pong player couldn’t attend international games. So I encouraged my daughter to learn ping pong. When I sent my daughter to practice in the Beijing Team, I got to know Yue,” he said. “Going to the Olympics was my dream too. My daughter didn’t fulfill it for me. And now Yue did.”

Wu said: “This is all because I love ping pong. Otherwise, who would sacrifice so much for something like this?” Now she is focusing on practicing to prepare for the Olympics. She wrote a line in her WeChat account: “How you deal with the world decides everything including your own future.”

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