One of the world’s most popular sports took over the Canada Games Centre this weekend — but if you didn’t know where to look, you’d probably miss it, with the parking lot empty and the facility nearly deserted.
With 12 tables squeezed into the flexi-hall, the Western Canadian Open Table Tennis Championships brought in teams from Manitoba to BC.
Fifty-five athletes, from national team members to rank amateurs, picked up the paddle for pong supremacy over the three-day event.
“We’re providing about half of the players here,” said Yukon player/coach Kevin Murphy. “Having to fly in definitely cuts down on the number of people.”
The small turnout was expected, as provincial teams sent only their best available players. In a larger centre, the Western Open usually attracts twice as many players.
Limited numbers aside, local players got a real education from their southern competitors.
“Up here in the Yukon we don’t see this level of competition at all,” said Ken Madsen.
“I played one of the top players in the country, and he commented that my game had improved from yesterday — “it’s been a really great learning experience, all of our games have responded to playing at this level, and that’s very exiting.”
“They were using us as an opportunity for smash practice,” said Malkolm Boothroyd, who came away with a new understanding of the game.
“I learned to keep it lower over the net. That’s important.”
It wasn’t all spankings for the Yukon squad though, as Kevin Murphy won the Under-800 points singles competition and the Under-1,600 doubles with partner Steve Fecteau.
The highlights of the tournament were the open men’s and women’s events, and some heavy hitters from Alberta and BC came to conquer.
“We have the No. 2-ranked player in the country, Zhen Wang from BC,” said Murphy on Saturday. “He’s a dynamite player, and also, the No. 7-ranked player, from Saskatchewan, Dennis Su. I’m expecting to see those two battle it out in the final of the men’s open.”
Wang came away the victor after Sunday’s final. He also won in doubles with teammate Peter Yau.
In the women’s open, it was Alberta all the way.
Ioulia Degtiar defeated fellow Albertan (and national team member) Shirley Yan in five sets, the most exiting match of the weekend.
Degtiar and Yan combined their efforts to take the doubles competition over Fiona Yu and Joy Yiu of BC.
Despite the low profile, the organizers are pleased with the results.
“We’ve heard nothing but positive comments from the other contingents, they love the facility,” said Murphy.
“I was at the Westerns last year in Saskatoon and I think we’re doing them one better.”
The Westerns served as a Canada Games test event, and, a few tweaks aside, things look good for February 2007.
“I was worried about how we were going to pull it off, we’re such a small organization, and with so few volunteers,” said Dave Stockdale, president of the Yukon Table Tennis Association. “Everybody just pulled together and mucked in.”
The Canada Games table tennis event will be twice the size, with teams from 10 provinces and two territories.
“We’ll need a couple more people on the control desk,” said Stockdale. “And it will be tight getting 16 tables in there, but I think we can do it.”