Xia Lian Ni: Age no obstacle on road to Tokyo 2020

30 June 2019

Xia Lian Ni was one of six table tennis players competing at the European Games Minsk 2019 to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The EOC spoke to the China-born Luxembourger who claimed the first European Games medal for her adopted homeland.

When 55-year-old Xia Lian Ni took bronze at the European Games Minsk 2019 earlier this week at the Tennis Olympic Centre, she also booked a direct ticket to the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. She defeated Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin in the women’s singles, dominating the match four games to six.

“I can’t describe how happy I am at this point. I did not realise it would mean so much to me. I have won many titles, including World and European competitions, but this is just different. It makes me the happiest, because [the match] was the hardest of all,” said Ni, who won her first World Championship in 1983.

Coincidentally, the 1983 World Table Tennis Championships were held in Tokyo, meaning that Ni will be returning to the Japanese capital 37 years later to compete for an Olympic title. The four-time Olympian made her Olympic debut at the Sydney 2000 Games, followed by Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, during which she was the flag bearer for Luxembourg at the Closing Ceremony.

By her own admission, Ni has dedicated her whole life to table tennis. She started playing the sport at age 7 and gradually became more and more infatuated with it throughout the years, primarily for its inclusivity.

“Young or old, men or women, disabled or not, for fun or professionally, indoors or outdoors – you name it! Our community is like a big family, and I have learned so much from my sport,” she said.

Ni’s coach is her Swedish-born husband Tommy Danielsson, a “world-class player himself,” who first started coaching in the 1990s. Ni, a three-time European champion who emigrated to the continent in 1989, credits him in no small part for her longevity and success.

“He understands the game better than most people, but he also understands me as well. Without our cooperation, it would not have been possible for me to be where I am today,” she explained.

The table-tennis legend has indeed had a remarkable career, one spanning four decades during which she has claimed hundreds of titles. Now that she is set to become the oldest Olympic athlete to represent her sport at Tokyo 2020, Ni strives to become a role model for people of all ages.

“I know I am not the youngest, but I always say: ‘Today I am younger than tomorrow.’ If you set your mind on something, age will not be an obstacle,” she said, quick to credit her friends and team, including the International Table Tennis Federation and the National Olympic Committee of Luxembourg for their continuous support.

“I think I represent all [people], no matter the age, colour or religion. Sometimes you can make the impossible possible,” she said, referring to a variety of disadvantages she has had to overcome on her path to becoming a champion.

“I am short, I am old, I have an old-fashioned style of playing, but I believe I have a good attitude, which helped me to get this far.”

Ni had a great European Games here in Minsk, claiming the first out of two medals for Luxembourg (archer Seywert Gilles won a silver), the country she has been representing since 1991. She also took the time to praise the organisers of the Games, congratulating them on the successful execution of the event.

“I have no complaints, and I have not heard any from anyone else either,” she said. “I am impressed with what Belarus put together – chapeau!”

Before the 2020 Olympic Games, Ni plans to participate in numerous tournaments, including the 2019 European Table Tennis Championship taking place in September in Nantes, the Swedish Open in Stockholm in November, and the European Top 16 in Switzerland.