American table tennis players

American Table Tennis

Crystal Wang is 13, and has a silver medal at the U.S. championships. Here are her tips to help you school everyone.

Crystal Wang is a recent bronze medalist at the Junior World Championships.(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — A four-time world team member and national doubles table tennis champion, Han Xiao just barely missed a spot to compete for the USA in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. After the disappointment, he took a hiatus from the sport, only to return in January of 2014.

As he headed over to the Maryland Table Tennis Center he told his wife he was going to practice with a 12-year-old girl. The practice didn't seem like the ideal challenge for a grown man.

"Yeah, I know, " he said. "It sounds weird. My wife said, 'A 12-year-old girl? Really?' "

But once you know more about this particular girl, Crystal Wang, who turned 13 on Feb. 23, it makes a lot more sense.

"Now I practice with her all the time, and I'm going full force, " said Xiao, 28, who hit with her on Wednesday at the club and had to grab some much-needed water after a few rounds with the newly-minted teen. "It's very easy to forget how young she is."

2015-03-06-crystal-wang-Wang, a seventh-grader, already has an impressive résumé: She is the youngest player to make the USA national team (men or women), the youngest to win an under-22 singles title at nationals (also among men or woman) and the youngest to make the final of the men's or women's singles at nationals.

Wang will be missing her rigorous math and science classes at Roberto Clemente Middle School, a magnet school in Germantown, Md., to compete in the 2015 World Team and Pan-Am Trials on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth this weekend. Wang knows that making the Pan-Am and world teams would help her achieve her ultimate goal of competing in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

"I'm kind of nervous right now, " admitted Wang as she squeezed in some last-minute practice time before heading to Texas. "I'm just looking at videos at how I'm playing and practicing strategies."

The women's competition in Fort Worth will be especially tight as several top players will be vying for one of three spots on the Pan-Am team and one of four for worlds. Wang enters the trials ranked fourth and will face the likes of 2012 Olympian Lily Zhang, but she does have a good chance of making the world team as two top entrants at the trials are Chinese-born and are ineligible to represent the USA at worlds. (The two women can compete in the Pan-Ams, however.)

Crystal Wang, 13, is a recent bronze medalist at the Junior World Championships as part of the USA team. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY Sports)

There is a good reason why the women will be nervous about facing Wang. An aggressive player known for a wicked backhand, Wang has made impressive runs against many opponents much older and more experienced than she. She was the lone female participant in a 16-player field at the Grand Final of the North American Table Tennis Tour in Pleasantville, N.Y., in February and upset the No. 9 seed in the round-robin stage.

"She is playing like Michael Phelps swims, " said Sean O'Neill, a two-time U.S. Olympian who is USA Table Tennis' director of communications. "She trains a lot but she also faces different hitting partners, so it would be like a tennis player who one day is playing (Roger) Federer and the next day facing Novak Djokovic. Her club is so strong that they bring in all sorts of practice players. If she needs to face lefties, they bring them in."

2006 Stiga North American Teams Table Tennis
2006 Stiga North American Teams Table Tennis
Meiklejohn 2014 Senior North American Table Tennis
Meiklejohn 2014 Senior North American Table Tennis ...
American Youth Table Tennis Sunday Academy - Raw Footage
American Youth Table Tennis Sunday Academy - Raw Footage ...
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