With the Paralympic Games rapidly approaching, Report On Rio will preview every event that has a Canadian team competing in Brazil — featuring past results, schedules, rosters, and expectations.
Canada is set to return to Paralympic table tennis in a big way this September in Rio de Janeiro after not qualifying for the London Games in 2012.
There is great optimism from Table Tennis Canada that Richmond BC’s Stephanie Chan, Canada’s first female table tennis Paralympian since Martha Johnson in 1984, has a legitimate chance of ending this nation’s 32-year Paralympic medal drought. Johnson won bronze at the ’84 games hosted in New York/Stoke Mandeville.
“This is the first time that we ever had a player ranked in the top-10 compete at the Paralympic Games,’’ said John MacPherson, Table Tennis Canada’s para head coach. “Stephanie has the potential for excellent results in Rio and I know she will be an inspiration to those who follow her in the future”
The 59-year-old Chan, born in Hong Kong, China, is currently positioned 10th in the International Table Tennis Federation (IITF) rankings for women’s class 7 singles. She punched her ticket to Rio, and made an emphatic statement that she could be a Paralympics medal contender, by winning gold at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto.
Table tennis events are scheduled to take place in Rio from Sept. 8 to 17 at Riocentro – Pavillion 3.
The Road to Rio
Chan was thoroughly dominant en route to earning the top spot on the podium at last year’s Parapan Ams. She never dropped a single set (12-0) in her four tournament games, and she won the vast majority of these best-of-five matches by blowout margins.
She opened the tournament by defeating Costa Rica’s Aneth Priscila Araya Alvarez in a contest that lasted a mere 12 minutes (11-6, 11-3, 11-2). Her performance in the next game was even better as she trounced Sherri Umschied of the U.S, to the tune of 11-2, 11-3 and 11-3 set scores. The first-time Paralympian’s third match was her most impressive showcase of the competition: She completed an eight-minute demolition of the Argentinian Paola Ranieli, highlighted by a 11-0 whitewashing in the opening set (11-2, 11-5).
Giselle Munoz of Argentina — ranked eighth in the world— did mount more of a challenge to Chan in the championship final, however the Canadian managed to dust off her foe with relative ease (11-7, 11-7, 11-8).
Toronto was Chan’s third Parapan Ams experience. She captured silver in 2007 at Rio and 2011 at Guadalajara, Mexico.
Before Chan, Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia native Ian Kent was Canada’s last Paralympic ping pong player. He fell well short of a medal as he finished 12th in the men’s Class 8 singles. This was his lone visit to the Games. He was more of a impactful force at the Parapan Ams as he collected six medals, which included a singles title in 2011, in three appearances.
Chan told Report on Rio that winning gold last year allowed her to successfully realize her goal of qualifying for the Paralympics within 10 years after her 50th birthday.
The right-handed player, who picked up the game competitively at 44, is more concerned with trying to lock down a silver or bronze medal as she admitted that attaining gold “is difficult.”
Another one of her goals at these Games is to inspire more Canadian women to join para table tennis.
“I think this is the beginning,” she said. “Maybe in the future there will be many women because they see that even at this age, you can play table tennis.”
Despite her clinical mastery of the Parapan Ams, Chan cannot be viewed as a heavy favourite to nab a podium finish. None of the top seven players in the international rankings participated in last year’s para-continental event in Ontario’s capital city.
Perhaps a big reason Chan is not overly bullish of her chances to finish on top of the world is because of the dominance of the Netherland’s Kelly Van Zon, who is the world number one. The defending Paralympic champion owns a 5-0 lifetime match record, and a 15-2 advantage in sets, over Chan.
Finishing with silver and bronze medal will also be a mountainous task for the Canadian considering she has a poor cumulative record of 1-13 against the other table tennis athletes ranked in the world’s top seven.
While it is more probable for Chan to ultimately vie for a top eight spot, she could surge to a surprise medal if she displays the form she showed last year in Toronto.
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee