The man of my life: Ping pong twins

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HKSAR - By WILLA WU in Hong Kong willa@chi­nadai­ Con­tact the writ­ers at luis­liu@chi­nadai­

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.”

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