Yukon junior male Alex Zheng now has medals from two Arctic Winter Games in table tennis.
The veteran of the team, competing in his third Arctic Games, won two bronze medals last week at Selkirk Elementary School.
Zheng won bronze in junior male singles by defeating N.W.T.‘s Daniel Huang 12-14, 11-5, 11-7, 4-11, 11-8.
He then teamed up with Kyle Gonder, winning three straight matches over Nunavut for bronze in the team event.
The two also came within points of another bronze in junior male doubles. Playing Alaska for the medal, the Yukon players were narrowly defeated 11-6, 14-12, 12-10, 11-5, 11-9.
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“It was one of the tightest matches I’ve had the pleasure of watching and coaching,” said Yukon head coach Kevin Murphy.
Gonder was originally going to play in the juvenile category and Abed Al-Rammahi, another juvenile-aged player, was going to play junior. But Murphy decided the more experienced Gonder would be better off against the stiffer, older competition.
“I made a tactical decision to move Kyle up from the lower age category to the older age category to complement Alex,” said Murphy. “I think it’s one of the things that led to the second medal if not both of them in some manner. He was instrumental in providing the kind of teamwork and chemistry that helped Alex achieve his singles medal and the two did extremely well.”
Two medals is a good result for the team considering its youth and inexperience, said Murphy.
“It’s promising because it’s a very young team; there are only three experienced players on there,” said Murphy. “The other five players are very much learning the game and will probably be on teams in the future, like in two years from now (at the next Games).”
In fact, just having female players was a bonus. The Yukon did not field a single female table tennis player at the previous two Arctic Games.
“We had four girls and all of them are at the juvenile age,” said Murphy. “So they were new and it was a good experience for them. The four girls enjoyed themselves so much and the competition so much, and they got to see what other kids their age can do. I think that’s great incentive to work at the sport the next two years.”
Zheng won silver in singles and gold in the team event as a juvenile in the 2010 Arctic Games. He also competed in the 2008 Games, placing fourth in the juvenile mixed doubles for his best finish.
Both Zheng and Gonder represented the Yukon at the Canada Winter Games a little over a year ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“One of the most pleasing things about the team was Kyle playing in the older age category,” said Murphy.
“His play from a year ago in Canada Winter Games to where he is now, is a real dynamic improvement … He really showed he can play with the big guns.”
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