Indian-origin paddler Kanak Jha is the youngest ever male to take part in Olympic Table Tennis
Kanak Jha just turned 16 years old on the 19th of last month. But with an Olympic berth under his belt which he had earned back in April, he has already created history by becoming the youngest male table tennis player to ever qualify for the mega tournament.
The distinction of Kanak’s feat transcends the limits of his own sport by making him the first American Olympian born in the current millennium. The Indian-origin paddler, however, is no stranger to stiff challenges. At the tender age of 13, he had conquered every category at the US Nationals, from Under-15 and Under-18 to Under-21 before going down in the semi-finals of the senior men’s singles event to suffer his only defeat in 28 matches.
Numerous other stunning victories across competitions in different continents later, Kanak’s dream run culminated in his inclusion in the US National Table Tennis team heading for the North American Olympic Qualifiers to be held in Toronto, Canada. Reaching the semi-finals on the 3rd day of the meet, Kanak faced Canadian player Pierre-Luc Theriault in an attempt to earn a place in the finale clash.
What transpired in the course of that encounter seemed to have been lifted right off the plot of a Hollywood movie.
Tied 3-3 at the end of six sets, the teenager trailed 0-5 in the decider, when it was heavily inclined towards the Canadian to run away with the contest. But Kanak had other plans. Tightening his resolve, he seized eleven successive points to clinch the 7th set to surge ahead to the finals, which he later won as well, thereby sealing his place at the Rio Olympics 2016.
Massimo Costantini, coach of the US National table tennis team, is content with what he has seen from the California-boy so far. The Italian holds the opinion that Kanak is definitely a bright one for the future, having attained the level of maturity required to excel in the sport quite early in his career.
Rio will serve as a stepping stone towards achieving his primary target at the next Olympics, four years later in Tokyo.
Kanak isn’t looking that far ahead yet. To get into the main men’s singles draw at Rio 2016, Kanak will have to win two qualifying games first – and that is what he has put his entire focus on at the moment. From the looks of it, even Constantini believes that he will make it there, irrespective of the rivals he goes up against.