TENNIS

Meet Australian table tennis legend Jian Fang Lay, 49

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Table tennis Legend Jian Fang Lai has done everything possible in his sport by serving ping pong balls on the world’s biggest stages and putting together Australian teams with metronomic consistency.

But in a career spanning more than two decades, including a record six Olympics and five Commonwealth Games, Lay has yet to taste gold.

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Lay, 49, is throwing away everything but the kitchen sink to change this statistic at Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games where she will compete in the women’s team, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

A gold medal will certainly cement Lay’s incredible legacy, but she’s already been considered a cult hero since her debut in 2002 at the Friendly Games in Manchester.

Lay is set to achieve another major milestone in Birmingham after becoming the first Australian woman to reach six Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020.

The mother-of-two will join an exclusive club when she makes her sixth appearance at the Commonwealth Games, a record for an Australian woman and only the sixth Australian athlete to achieve the feat.

“It’s exciting to be at my sixth Commonwealth Games, I always enjoy representing Australia on the world stage,” said Lay. Commonwealth Games Australia.

“It’s a great group that will be competing against me and I know we’ll all be working hard between now and the Games to do our best in Birmingham.”

What makes the feat even more remarkable is the fact that Lay has appeared in every Commonwealth Games table tennis tournament since the sport debuted in 2002.

READ: Everything you need to know about athletics at the 2022 Commonwealth Games

A pillar of Australian table tennis

Lay was a mainstay of Australia’s team efforts at the Commonwealth Games with a total of seven medals – four silver and three bronze – from Manchester 2002, Melbourne 2006 and Glasgow 2014. She contributed to more than half Australia’s table tennis medals at the Commonwealth Games.

Born in Wenzhou, China, Lay first learned to paddle at age six and won her first provincial title at age 11. Lay emigrated to Australia in 1994 with her husband, training partner and coach Jorge Lay. Shortly after arriving in Australia, Lay retired from the sport.

Fortunately, Lay turned around and made her Olympic debut for her adopted country on home soil at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she competed in doubles alongside Stella Zhou. She claimed victory four years later in Athens 2004 to advance to the second round of the singles event.

Lay also won her first singles rounds at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 before producing her best singles results at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 (in 2021). She reached the third round in both tournaments after winning the first two matches.

Seventh Olympic Games on the cards?

His selection for Tokyo 2020 alone marked a milestone in joining the equestrian athlete Mary Hanna as the first woman to represent the nation in six Olympic Games.

“I never imagined that I would be the first woman to represent Australia at six Olympic Games. I hope this inspires more girls to play table tennis. As long as you have a dream, anything is possible” , Lay told the Times.

“I have to thank my family – my husband and my two boys – my friends, Warren and Jane, who support me and allow me to continue. Without their support, without their strength, it would have been impossible for me to continue playing tennis. of table. .”

Winning gold in Birmingham would be the icing on the cake of a remarkable career and could lay the groundwork for a historic seventh Olympic Games bid.

A seventh appearance would see Lay become only the second female table tennis player after Nigerian ace Funke Oshonaike to reach so many Olympic Games.

“Six Olympics is a great achievement for me and my team as well,” Lay said. The Guardian. “I think it’s a long time to do [to Paris] – three years is a long time. I have a one year plan – don’t overthink it [about the longer-term].”

READ: 58-year-old Xia Lian Ni earns historic fifth medal at world championships

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