Growing up as a child in Stockholm, Sweden, Jan-Ove Waldner became a rising star in the table tennis world at a young age. While media sources often capture the glamorized moments of success, Jan-Ove would be the first to tell you that the road to becoming a World Champion was anything but easy. Recognized for his extraordinary style of play, many have noted that Waldner’s game is the most perfect, complex, and strategic style. His unique skill and mental physique has earned him the title as the “Mozart of Table Tennis.”
Learning the Game
In the summer of 1974, Jan-Ove was invited to a training camp in Orebro by The Swedish Table Tennis Association (STTA). By the end of the week, nine year old Jan-Ove refused to leave when his mother returned to pick him up. His fascination with the sport had ignited and his highly competitive nature would not let him put the paddle down.
After this initial introduction to ping pong, Jan-Ove left to train amongst the greats in the Country of World Champions; China. Looking back in hindsight, he remarked “Hard work got a whole new meaning to me. I understood what it actually would take of me to become the best player in the world.”
Making his first appearance in the Shanghai Open in 1980, Waldner learned a tough lesson in front of 12,000 fans. Losing most of his matches against skilled Chinese competitors, Waldner took the event as a learning experience, all the while increasing his inner-drive to win. With the bitter taste of defeat fresh in his mouth, Jan-Ove returned home to hone his skills and improve with a new determination to become the best ping pong player that the world had ever seen.
A Table Tennis Legend Emerges
By the time he reached his teenage years, many ping pong enthusiasts had begun to murmur about the young Swedish boy who was destined to become the next prodigy. His first confirmation came when he successfully defeated an individual who he had emulated as a child; Stellan Bengtssson, former World Champion. 16 years old at the time, Waldner had earned his place in the European Championships of 1982, making him the youngest European finalist of All-Time.
After losing to an opponent in the finals, renowned German National Trainer, Istvan Korpa took note of Jan-Ove’s talent stating, “I have never seen such a complete player at this age. He can beat everybody, including the Chinese. His perfect services, his impressive changes of speed, his ability to vary his game, will keep European coaches occupied for years to come.”
Reaching New Plateaus
Jan-Ove Waldner’s success didn’t stop there, he was only beginning his rise to fame in the table tennis world. He was invited to the first ever table tennis competition in conjunction with the 1988 World Olympics. Participating in the 1992 Olympics a few years later, Jan-Ove solidified his name in the record books. He won a coveted Gold Medal, being honored for his extreme dedication to the game by a standing ovation from ping pong experts and spectators alike.
Being the only Swede to bring home a Gold Medal that year, his performance was exceptional and well-received. Jan-Ove Waldner had arrived and he didn’t take his accomplishment lightly stating, “The Olympics is the ultimate title, the biggest thing you can win and I had prepared for such a long time for that tournament.”
After being active in the ping pong community for nearly 30 years, Jan-Ove has grown older and lightened his involvement in the sport. Although he opened his own restaurant called the “W,” Waldner’s name hasn’t faded from the discussion. China’s top athletes have nicknamed him Chang Qing Shu, or “The Evergreen Tree” for his persistence and superior understanding of the game. This is no small accolade coming from the country that dominates table tennis. While his days influencing the sport have waned, Jan-Ove remains crowned the best table tennis player to ever grip a paddle.