The man of my life: Ping pong twins
It was in 1988 that the duo first met each other. Ko was 12 at that time, an age normally considered too old to be trained for a professional career. His first impression of his future Olympic partner was: smart.
“He was a penhold grip player with wisdom,” said Ko.
“Unlike the handshake grip which heavily relies on the player’s athletic strength, the penhold grip calls for wit. A penholder must have some tricks to play well,” Ko explained; he is also a penholder.
Li, who is one-year older than Ko, thought his junior was quiet and concentrated. “He was never talkative but very much into trainings,” Li said.
The duo united in 1994 when their coach in the national team paired them to train for men’s doubles. From day one they were paired, the duo were arranged to live in the same dormitory, for the sake of cultivating mutual understanding.
But that was not easy, especially for two grown men who share very different characters. Ko is gentle and reserved, a more defensive player. While Li, being serious and aggressive, always takes initiative to attack.
“At the beginning , communication between us was a disaster, like the Mars hitting the Earth. We argued a lot,” Li recalled. The failed communication directly led to poor performance.
Despite having opposite characters, they share the same goal — to win the contests, big or small. The consensus, like a magnet, drew them together.
“We never doubt each other. And it never occurred to us that we could not cooperate. Instead, we analyzed every possible skills and tactics together, in a bid to find out a way that suited each other. I feel grateful to Ko. He has always bore with me,” Li added.
The duo’s career highlight came four years after both moved to the special administrative region, playing for the Hong Kong team. They won a silver medal from men’s doubles in 2004 Athens Olympics.
Yet both Li and Ko said the most unforgettable memory in 2004 rested on the night before the semi-finals for men’s doubles. That night both slept for just two hours.
When earning the last point to win the contest, the previously quiet Ko jumped on Li, cheering for not only winning the contest, but also their longterm hard work being paid off.
Taking interviews after winning the silver medal, Li said to Ko: “I would still choose you as my partner in an afterlife, if there is one.”