Bronze leaves Canadians wanting
Veterans Wang, Zhang had higher expectations
The long faces on Canada’s best table tennis players told the story of their Pan Am Games. One bronze medal — something you win automatically when you lose a semifinal — was all they could manage Saturday in men’s and women’s singles.
It wasn’t good enough for a team that had much higher expectations of itself.
“I lost . . . it’s not a great feeling,” said Eugene Wang of Ottawa, the day’s bronze medallist. “I expected a better result than this.”
Wang, a 29-year-old ranked 58th in the world, lost in the semifinals to Brazil’s Hugo Calderano, ranked 76th. The Canadian dropped three straight games to fall behind 3-1, then won two in a row to force a seventh game. Calderano won the deciding game 11-7.
There is double bronze in table tennis, to each semifinal loser. Brazil — looking good for the 2016 Olympics in Rio — went home with gold, silver and the other bronze on the men’s side. In fact, any time a Canadian played a Brazilian on Saturday, the Brazilian prevailed — Caroline Kumahara over Mo Zhang of Chilliwack, B.C., and Lin Gui over Anqi Luo of Mississauga in the women’s field; Gustavo Tsuboi over Pierre-Luc Theriault of Rimouski, Que., in the men’s.
“They are the strongest, and the biggest favourite from this competition,” Wang said of the Brazilians.
“Bad,” was all Zhang, 26, had to say to sum up her too-early-to-swallow elimination in the women’s quarterfinals. She was the defending Pan Am gold medallist.
Wang’s bronze was Canada’s 196th medal of the Games, tying the country’s Pan Am record, set in1999. They surpassed the total with gold and bronze medals in the women’s road race in cycling.
Wang’s medal was also Canada’s third bronze in table tennis, including two in the team event. Canada had only one medal — Zhang’s gold — in the sport in the 2011 Pan Ams.
“We were aiming for a little bit better,” coach Maxime Surprenant said. “We need to acknowledge what we achieved, which was good. We have to aim higher next time.”
If there was a divide among the team it was an emotional one between youth and experience.
It was the grizzled veterans and highest-ranked Canadians — Wang and Zhang — whose faces were longest, whose answers were shortest. They were the ones with the pressure to do well at their home Games.
“I wanted too much. I think too much,” said Zhang, ranked 102nd in the world. “For my future, this is really a good lesson for me. I have to think more clearly. When you’re nervous, you have to do what you have to do.”
But the youth of the team were smiling despite also having been eliminated early from singles.
“We wanted to win a medal in team and we achieved it, so I’m very happy,” said Alicia Cote of Drummondville, Que., at 15 Canada’s youngest athlete. “In singles, I would like to have advanced, but I did pretty well.”
Theriault, 21, would have liked a medal, but took the long view.
“I was ranked 17 in the tournament and I came in top eight,” Theriault said. “That’s a good result. But I’m disappointed with my match against Tsuboi. He’s 55th in world, I’m 318th. You could see the difference.”
It came as a bit of a surprise to the athletes that the table tennis venue at the Markham Sports Centre was packed. That might have jumbled a few nerves and added to the emotional swings that come with a game that seems built on momentum.