Ping pong is a relatively new sport, compared to the age-old giants like cricket, baseball, and soccer. It was only recently, in 1988 when the sport was added to the roster of competitions of the Olympics. Being a new sport, there’s much left to experiment in terms of effective strategies and techniques that can be used to gain an upper-hand in the game. Of course, raw skill and talent are required as well to be successful at ping pong, perhaps more so than other sports. Playing ping pong at a competitive level requires a high degree of concentration and dedication. Games of ping pong played between two professional players progress at a rapid rate, with the ball whizzing between the two sides of the table multiple times in just a few moments.
Given the skill and tenacity that’s required to play ping pong at a competitive level, it’s even more amazing that Kanak Jha is one of the best players in the USA, at the young age of only 16. In fact, he was the first athlete born after the year 2000 to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The boy prodigy grew up with his family in California, near San Jose. Though in his early childhood he played more football than table tennis, he developed more interest in the latter later on. A big reason for his shift of focus towards table tennis was that his sister, Prachi, was already a good player and he would play with her. His experience with soccer early on gave him superior hand-eye co-ordination and good footwork. Even at his young age, it was clear that he had a knack for the game.
As a junior table tennis player, he achieved far more than any other player of the sport ever had at his age. At just the tender age of 13, he participated in every category of the American Nationals. One would assume that players older than him would have a clear advantage and defeat him, however, Kanak emerged victorious in almost every category. He won gold in the under-15, under-18 and under-21 championships. He even made it all the way to the semi-finals of the men’s singles: a first-time feat in the history of American table tennis. Out of the 28 matches, he took part in, he lost only once.
In spite of his talent and capability, Kanak would not have been able to strike out as one of the best players of ping pong without the support of his parents. Training for any athletic event takes not only a lot of dedication but also a lot of funds. It can cost $60 to $70 just to train for one hour. Multiply that by the 12-14 hours that athletes need to train for in a week and you can imagine the financial burden on Kanak’s father. Thankfully, Kanak’s father, Arun, is an employee of Sun Microsystems, a software company in California with a global presence. Like most reputed software companies in Silicon Valley, Sun Microsystems pays its software engineers, such as Arun, well. Having a good salary enabled Arun to invest in Kanak’s future as a rising ping pong star.