The 2018 Youth Olympic Games draw to a close for US athletes Kanak Jha and Amy Wang. Both players have cherished this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in this unique event, both having done their country proud and having recorded the best US result ever.
Indian American Kanak Jha, the first U.S. table tennis player born in the 2000s and the youngest athlete for the country at the 2016 Olympic Games, won a bronze at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Jha won the medal Oct. 10, becoming the first American man in history to win a table tennis medal at either an Olympic or Youth Olympic Games, according to a TeamUSA.org report.
The three-time back-to-back US National Champion took to the group stages and instantly landed a win, with a 4-0 result over Poland’s Maciej Kolodziejczyk. He continued to defeat Nicolas Burgos of Chile, 4-2 and finally Jann Nayre of the Philippines, 4-0. Along with Amy Wang (who won 2 of her matches and lost the third 4-3), he advanced into the last 16 players in the event. The campaign for both players was off to a good start, but Jha had his reservations.
“That’s unbelievable,” Jha, now 18, said of his feat, in the report. “The U.S. has never been very strong in table tennis, so for me to win a medal for the U.S. is amazing.”
He has now competed at all three multi-sport Games – Pan American in 2015, Olympic in 2016 and Youth Olympic in 2018 – and knows the experiences will help him continue to grow throughout his career, it said.
The two finished in the last 16 of the mixed international team event, losing 2-1 to Azerbaijan, while Amy Wang competed with excellence to reach the quarterfinal in the women’s singles, beating a handful of incredibly tough opponents, the likes of South Korea, Serbia and Singapore.
Kanak Jha was the man to leap on opportunity, entering the contest as the 4th seeded player in the Men’s Singles event. The draw was stacked with incredibly tough opponents, the likes of Japanese wonderkid Tomokazu Harimoto, China’s Wang Chuqin, European Youth Champion Ioannis Sgouroupolos, Swedish Star Truls Moregardh, Romania’s upcoming talent Cristian Pletea and of course Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju. There were plenty of other big names in the mix too, not only on the Men’s side, but also the Women’s.
“I hadn’t played a tournament for a very long time before this, I think the last one was the Pan American Junior Champs, so I was feeling a little unsure of my form and if I was mentally ready to play such an important tournament. I definitely wasn’t one of the favorites going in, so I knew I would have to play my absolute best game to have a chance to get far, which also caused little pressure for me,” reflects Jha upon his thoughts before the big event.
“Of course knowing that you can only play this tournament once in your life makes me value how important the tournament is and it did change my mindset a lot compared to how it normally is. Feeling not only more pressure, but also more motivation. I think I am lucky to have played important matches before so I had more experience of how to deal with the added nerves. In particular I think Rio Olympics in 2016 helped a lot with this tournament. I already knew what to expect in terms of playing in a big atmosphere, staying in the athlete village etc. So I was not surprised or distracted by the other stuff that comes with playing in Olympics such as media and other factors like when I was in Rio.”
“I was actually feeling a little worried after the group stage. I didn’t feel so good in the matches and just didn’t have a flow or rhythm. I was very fortunate I think to have a good draw in the main draw, and I think I started to get more and more comfortable and more relaxed after each match. By the last day I was feeling very ready mentally and physically.”