'China in a class of its own': TT commentator Adam Bobrow explains how India can bridge the gap with world champions
Popular international TT commentator Adam Bobrow, also known as the “Voice of Table Tennis”, speaks to the Hindustan Times about why China is the strongest national team, the pressure on Chinese paddlers and what Indian TT needs to do more of to create more superstars of the game.
Do you remember the tearful apology given by China's mixed doubles table tennis team for winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics? The duo of Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin publicly apologized to the nation for not winning the gold medal after losing the final to their Japanese counterparts. They did so because for the nationalist of China, Xu and Liu standing on the second-highest step of the podium, which is still an incomplete dream for unquantifiable athletes around the world, was not enough. If there was a fitting example to showcase the amount of pressure put on Chinese athletes to be the absolute best, it has got to be this.
The pressure is also the reason behind China's dominance in the world of sports. They finished second in the medal tally, with 38 golds and the belief reads that the system in place in the country and the investments made for the athletes merits nothing other than a gold medal.
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To give deeper insights into the ecosystem of Chinese Table Tennis, the Hindustan Times caught up with famous TT commentator, the "Voice of Table Tennis", Adam Bobrow for an interview.
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Bobrow has a wide spectrum of talent and is a popular ﬁgure in the table tennis world. In 2014 he was named as the primary commentator for the sport by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and since then he has been globally recognised as "The Voice of Table Tennis". He has so far commentated in over 100 international tournaments around the world and has seen how different nations operate at close quarters.
When asked why is China, and the likes of Japan and South Korea, so far ahead of the rest of the crowd, Bobrow explained:
"China is in a class of its own. There is no comparison. Japan is very strong and (South) Korea is very strong, but China is a class of its own and we have to acknowledge that. There is an incredible amount of pressure on the Chinese players. The Chinese players have very individual personalities, they all have a sense of humour, some more than others, and they all have sacrificed a lot to make it their career to and to qualify and be a part of the greatest national team in the history of the sport."
Indian table tennis has seen a significant rise on the global spectrum. Be it G Sathiyan, Sharath Kamal or Manika Batra achieving career-best rankings and breaking into the top-50s and top100s, or the likes of Manav Thakkar becoming the world No.1 in the U-18 category, the level of TT in the country is definitely on the upward trajectory. However, the paddlers still lack a cutting edge and a lot of it has to do with the system.
Bobrow, who has competed in more than 30 countries in various tournaments, and is also a popular YouTuber, elaborated on what India needs to do to continue its pursuit of greatness.
"China puts a lot of resources into table tennis, including governmental support. I know Vita Dani and Niraj Bajaj support Table Tennis in a huge way in India. It's already had a massive effect on the growth of just the level (of the players) in India. And that's just happened in four years. China has been doing this for decades.
"And by this, I don't mean supporting it. They have had a system in place with thousands and thousands of coaches and probably hundreds and thousands of six-year-olds learning proper technique from a young age, giving a solid base to their foundation. So, it's not going to happen overnight. But it has to start somewhere and India has started on the journey but there needs to be continuing spread at the grassroots. Kids need to be good at it and kids need to care about it and kids need other kids to do activities.
"Creating schools vs schools (competitions) from elementary schools and getting coaches in schools to teach everything properly. Marketing it well and creating superstars from the Manika Batras, Sutirtha Mukherjees and Archana Kamaths to the Sharath Kamals and Sathiyan Gnanasekarans to the Harmeet Desais and the Manav Thakkars. It's about making them names in India," stated Bobrow.
Whenever a conversation surrounding Indian TT begins, it does not usually end without the mention of UTT. The Ultimate Table Tennis is a franchise-based TT league in India, the first of its kind, that was flagged off in 2017. Since then, three seasons have taken place and due to the wretched coronavirus pandemic, the tournament could not be held since 2019.
Bobrow has been a part of the league since its inception. If he is not commentating, he can either be seen sporting his rather unique TT outfits and giving the pros a hard time with his trick shot, something he and his YouTube channel are famous for. While it has brought name and fame to the players and the sport, it's still not enough. Bobrow opines why:
"Of course it's not enough. If it was, India would be beating China and we would already be there. It is enough to continue, then also no. But it's a great start. It's a step in the right direction. It's a survival skill to improve. India is outstandingly well and is on the right path and will learn more things and implement new things and will raise new funds.If we can develop the sport in a way that when people invest, they see a return on their investment, then more and more people will invest and that grows the pie for everyone involved," he added.
The prolific commentator, who has worked for over a decade doing voices for animation, video games and commercials for TV, radio and Hollywood movies, concluded: "You asked me how's it seeing the generation of Indians (Table Tennis) and the future, it's very exciting. I am very attracted to mystery. When I see Archana Kamath, when I see Sreeja Akula, when I see Manav Thakkar, there are so many players who have so much ahead of them and have so much potential. And we really don't know (what will happen). It's been really exciting to see India climb."