Top player and four-time Olympian, Li Chunli, has completed a remarkable return to competitive table tennis to lead a team of five representing New Zealand in women’s table tennis at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Li retired from competition after the Athens 2004 Olympic Games but took teams to both the Melbourne 2006 and Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games as coach.
She returned to the fast-paced world of international table tennis in 2012. Li will also compete in both the singles and doubles events, alongside sister and two-time Olympian Karen Li (37) who has been selected for her fourth Commonwealth Games.
The Li sisters are no strangers to Commonwealth Games medals. They returned from the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games with a silver medal in the medals doubles and a bronze for the women's team event. Chunli also secured a gold in the singles and a bronze in the mixed doubles. These are New Zealand's only Commonwealth Games table tennis medals.
Table Tennis New Zealand High Performance Director Murray Finch is says this is the strongest team selected since 2002 with more depth and tactical selection options than in the past. The players have played together periodically for several years and, under Li Chunli’s guidance, have become a very tight unit with a strong performance-based culture.
'They are coming off an excellent series of performances at the World Champs and will only improve with the pre-games build-up in China,” he said. “While the competition will be tough, and with the Singaporean team a clear favourite, we are nonetheless looking to perform well and have a team’s medal in our sights.”
The Li sisters will be joined in the team by Annie Yang (31) who is competing in her third Commonwealth Games, Jenny Hung (23) also in her third games and Sun Yang (31) who will assume a player/coach role at her second Games after being solely a player in 2010.
The five women will join a men's table tennis team selected earlier this month in Glasgow from mid-July. The Commonwealth Games teams’ event comprises four days of competition including two initial singles matches and followed by a doubles match and then additional singles if a clear winner has not emerged.
The competition takes place 24 – 27 July. New Zealand has won four Commonwealth Games medals, all at Manchester 2002 which was the first time the sport featured on the programme.
ABOUT THE ATHLETES
Li Chunli - 52. Born China, Hometown Pakuranga, Auckland, New Zealand. Right-handed pen hold attacker. There is little doubt that Chunli is New Zealand's greatest very table tennis player. Her international record stretching back 3 decades speaks for itself with highlights being her 3rd placing in the 1997 Women's World Cup and her singles Gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She has attended 4 Olympics and this will be her 2 Commonwealth Games as a player (the last two have been as women's coach). Since re-starting her competitive career in 2011 after a 7 year retirement (after the Athen's Olympics) to concentrate on her role as National Women's Coach, Chunli has climbed the international rankings to the point where she is back amongst the top 8 players at this Games. An extremely hard trainer, always well prepared and a ferocious competitor Chunli is more than capable of making a mark on these Games.
Karen Li - 36. Born China, Hometown Pakuranga, Aucklad, currently based Melbourne, Australia. Right-handed shake hand attacker/counter attacker. Karen, the sister of New Zealand's no. 1 player - Li Chunli, came to NZ to live in the late 1990's. She has developed a very successful international table tennis career in her own right under the New Zealand flag. She represented NZ at 2 Olympics (Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004) and this will be her 4th Commonwealth Games. She won medals in the women's teams (bronze) and women's doubles (silver) in 2002, was 4th in the doubles in 2006 and led the team to 5th place in 2010. Karen has returned to competitive play this year after taking time out for the birth of her first child, Samuel, in 2012.
Annie Yang - 31. Born China, Currently based Cologne, Germany. Left-handed penhold attacker. Annie will celebrate her 32nd birthday on the day of the Opening Ceremony at her 3rd Commonwealth Games. She has an excellent record at the Games and other high level events. She won key matches at both the 2010 and 2014 World Table Tennis Teams Championships that were crucial to the team's selection chances for the Games. In 2010, Annie's results were pivotal in the team finishing a credible 5th. In 2006, with Karen Li, she finished 4th in the doubles - missing a medal by 2 points. Annie is a doubles specialist and has played semi-professionally in Germany for some years, returning to the game competitively this year after the birth of her first child.
Jenny Hung - 23. Born China, Hometown Christchurch, currently based Taipei, Chinese Taipei. Right-handed shake hand counter-hitter. Jenny is competing in her 3rd Commonwealth Games. During her younger years Jenny was the standout junior in Oceania and developed a very strong reputation internationally. Her coming of age tournament in senior table tennis was the 2011 World University Games where, in a very strong field, she defeated several world class players. A qualified accountant (and currently a research assistant), Jenny has been living, working/studying and playing table tennis in the table tennis strong-hold of Chinese Taipei for over 2 years.
Sun Yang - 31. Born China, Hometown Christchurch, currently based Beijing, China. Right-handed shake hand defensive. Yang's primary role at the Games will be as the bench coach for the team, a role she performed very successfully at the recent World Table Tennis Championships where the team was undefeated. However her defensive style will provide a very useful tactical selection option against some teams or players during the Games. Yang is a proven performer at this level, being a key component of the successful team in her first Games in Delhi four years ago.