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Faith Hu Reflects on USA Debut at ISF Gymnasiade

Faith Hu Reflects on USA Debut at ISF Gymnasiade

Article by Faith Hu

The ISF Gymnasiade competition is the largest international multi-sport event for 16-18 years old school students. Over 63 countries fight for gold in 20 different sports, including table tennis. 2022 is the debut of USA's table tennis team in the ISF Gymnasiade. I was honored to have been selected to participate at the multi-sport event, which was held this year in Normandy, France. I can quite positively say the experience was unlike any other tournament I've ever attended. 

On first arrival, the village was astounding and put French culture on full display. Classic and modern French-style homes, adorable boutiques, and colorful winding streets. I immediately felt immersed and welcomed. We introduced ourselves to the other countries who had arrived at the same time - Chinese Taipei, Kazakhstan, India, and many more. The atmosphere was warm and friendly from all the other athletes.

On the first day of competition, Team USA warmed up in the training hall. Since it was a new environment, I wanted to start off simple. I attempted to get a feeling of the ball. How slow or fast does the ball travel? How does the ball behave when it bounces on the table? What about the spin? Understanding the basics of a new competition ground is vital. The tables, the size of the hall, the temperature and moisture levels in the air - every small detail can impact your performance if you don't adjust.

In the group stage, I faced off against India’s Trupti Praveen Purohit and Algeria’s Farhi Asma Lina. Trupti is a lefty and Farhi has medium pips. Personally, this was the best thing that could happen to me. Note the sarcasm. For me, I don't come across these two playing styles often, which means it would take time to adjust. Nevertheless, I quickly adapted and won both matches 3-0. I advanced out of the group stage.

Draws came out for the following round, and I’m up against Amy Marriot of England. I lost the first game to Marriot. I was not ready to rally continuously. I was constantly struggling to even place my paddle in a position where it would make contact with the ball. 

I reminded myself not to panic. I reflected on the first game. I lost most points because I wasn’t actively trying to win, instead, I was waiting for my opponent to lose. Determined to fix this mistake, I won 3 straight sets for a 3-1 victory. This is a common mistake many players make, not being purposeful and tactical enough to control how points are played out and expecting our opponents to make easy mistakes. At the international level this rarely happens, fortunately I was able to take control of my game and perform better starting in the second game of the match.

Immediately following I earned myself another win against Ukraine’s Sofiia Sheredeha , which brought me to the round of 16. I was particularly happy with this result as Sheredeha was the Under 15 Team champion in 2021 for the ISF World School Games.

In the round of 16, my opponent was Chi Yi-Ching from Chinese Taipei. She was a lefty as well. I had played and lost to her in 2019 at the Hong Kong Cadet and Junior Open, so I knew it would be a tough match. Unfortunately for me, Chu proved to be a better player, and my Girls Singles run had ended. 

I was able to finish 5th place in the Girls Team event with my US teammates Rachel and Joanna Sung and Angie Tan. I also partnered with Angie to reach the quarterfinals of the Girls Doubles event.  

We were also fortunate to have Coach Maggie Tian leading the team and guiding us through the challenging event.

ISF also generously planned special events for its participants. Cultural day, for instance, was dedicated to the exploration of all sorts of cultures. On this day, Team USA strolled through the streets of Normandy, France. We enjoyed the shops, fancy cafes and even made sure to delight in some ice cream. 

Cultural day was also where we were able to connect with the other countries around the world. Each country set up booths and shared a bit of their culture with those who approached the booths. Each country also prepared a performance to showcase. Team USA was lucky to have their breakdance team teach us a fun dance for when it was USA’s turn to perform. Learning the dance will forever be a core memory of mine. 

Thank you ISF for the extraordinary competition. And thank you JOOLA for the never-ending support and love!


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