Li Chunli a golden oldie
Table tennis player Li Chunli, now 50, wants to represent New Zealand at the London Olympics in July. I hope she makes it.
Li competed at four Olympics, from 1996 to 2004, then retired and has been a coach at the last two Commonwealth Games.
But she’s always been highly competitive and has challenged herself to get to another Olympics as a player.
Li secured an Olympic women’s table tennis qualifying spot at the Oceania championships in Sydney this month. However, her selection not assured.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee must be satisfied she can achieve a top 16 placing. That seems doubtful.
At Athens in 2004, she finished ninth-equal in doubles and 17th equal in singles. I have a soft spot for Li, though. She was brilliant at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, winning gold in the singles, silver in the doubles and bronze in the mixed, and almost single-handedly dragged New Zealand to a team bronze medal.
Her fierce competitiveness and fighting ability were inspiring.
It is difficult to think of anyone who was so obviously honoured to represent New Zealand, yet she was born in China.
If Li is able to jump through the various Olympic qualifying hoops, our Olympic selectors should acknowledge her standing in the game here by sending her to London.
If Li gets to London, she would be one of New Zealand’s oldest ever competitors, and our ever oldest female representative.
The honour of being New Zealand’s oldest Olympian belongs to yachtie Edgar Swinnerton, who was 56 years, 335 days at Melbourne in 1956, when he finished 11th in the dragon boating.
If three-day eventer Mark Todd is chosen for London (and he did win Badminton last year, after all) he would also be 56.
Andrew Nicholson, another equestrian competitor, would turn 51 during the Olympics.
There was news last week that Hiroshi Hoketsu, 71, is to represent Japan in the dressage in London.
He first competed Olympics in 1964.
Amazingly, there have been even older Olympians.
Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn is usually cited as the oldest.
He was 72 when he won a silver medal at Antwerp in 1920, his sixth Olympic medal.
To be strictly correct, Britain’s John Copley is the oldest ever Olympic medallist.
He was 73 when he won the silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics engravings and etchings competition.