Table Tennis World Championships
Ylyas Allanazarov and his dad Agamurat, (Photo: Rémy Gros, ITTF)
It can be a great age, 7. Full of hope and optimism and yet to be burdened by the dim realities of life. You still think your parents are cool. Santa’s mystical powers have not yet been extinguished by skepticism. And, if you’re Ylyas Allanazarov, you get to compete against the best in the world at your sport.
That last bit, obviously, isn’t quite typical youngster fare, which makes the presence of Allanazarov at the PERFECT world championships, table tennis’ biggest non-Olympic tournament, all the more remarkable.
But there he is, the youngster from Turkmenistan, clad in the official team uniform, listed alongside the finest players on the planet on the entry sheet and ready to do battle for his country.
“It is exciting to see someone so young with such passion for the sport and desire to reach the top of the game, ” Matt Pound, spokesman for the International Table Tennis Federation, told USA TODAY Sports.
Turkmenistan is not one of table tennis’ leading lights and is hoping to win promotion from Division Four, table tennis’ lowest international tier, during the tournament, which started over the weekend in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Allanazarov is the fourth member of the Turkmenistan squad, and with three players used each time a nation competes, it remains to be seen how much real action he will sample.
Yet his mere presence has turned heads in a sport where the technical nature of the action means players often do not peak until well into their thirties.
Language barriers prevented Allanazarov from saying much when interviewed, although he did announce his favorite player was China’s Zhang Jike, gold medal winner at the 2012 London Olympics.
Despite his tender years, Allanazarov’s regular schedule involves three hours of training, six days a week, according to his father Agamvrat, president of Turkmenistan’s table tennis federation.
“Table tennis is our life, ” Agamvrat said. “My family lives, eats, and breathes table tennis everyday. I want my son to do well in the game. I will keep supporting him always.”
After the world championships, it is planned that Allanazarov will move to neighboring Kazakhstan in order to receive elite level training and coaching.
“It is incredible to see someone of that age there at the worlds, ” said William Henzell, a three-time Olympic table tennis player for Australia and owner of internet coaching service TTedge.com. “He obviously has a long way to go. He will need to develop physically, technically and tactically. But you can’t put a price on getting that kind of experience at a young age. He is a step ahead in that sense.”
Maybe, but there will likely be a long wait for Allanazarov before he could potentially play on the greatest stage of all. While the world championships have no minimum age requirement, the Olympics do. The first time he would be able to compete in the Games would be in 2024 – at the ripe old age of 16.