2015 World Police and Fire Games Recap
Article by Tyler Byrum – June 30, 2015
This past weekend, the world’s finest descended to Fairfax, Virginia to compete in the World Police and Fire Games; a small scale, Olympic style event. For these Games, Smash Table Tennis in Sterling, Virginia opened their doors to global competitors of table tennis.
As an outsider to the sport of table tennis, I entered the facility with mixed expectations. For the event I was scheduled to work as the Public Address Announcer; simply announcing the completion of the matches and the schedule for upcoming matches. Previously, I have experience of playing court tennis for two years in high school, thus the reasoning for me being scheduled for the event.
As I mentioned earlier, I had mixed expectations coming into the tournament. I have seen table tennis competition before in the Olympics and the occasional highlight that might work its way onto SportsCenter. With the competitors representing police and fire departments across the world, the anticipation I had was towards play being of advanced recreational table tennis. However, what I experienced was nothing short of professional competition.
The first session of matches was the Men’s Singles (18-49) Division. There were 20 male competitors who competed in this division, representing different parts of the world. Hong Kong had the largest group of athletes with four, and then was followed by Poland, United States, and Australia with two each. With the 20 athletes divided into three pools, each pool was dominated by an individual with high accolades. The current #376 ranked player, Xue Jie Pang (Singapore); the 2013 World Police and Fire Games Men’s Gold Medalist, Dan Sergiu Farcas (Romania); and a former top 150 ranked player, Jaroslaw Tomicki (Poland) ran the show.
Setting up matches in the higher Pool A, the top tier players separated themselves from the pack by advancing to the Quarter-Finals of the elimination stage. This included Canadian, Alex Csibi, ranked #86 in Canada knocking off the former champion, Farcas. The Quarter-Finals were the best matches of the entire event, highlighted by a match between Dariusz Steuer (Poland) and King Lun Szeto (Hong Kong). This was the first match that displayed the battle of the two different styles of play; the close to the table Eastern aggressiveness, utilizing time pressure against an away from the table Eastern Eurpean looping style with heavy top spin. Szeto, the 2013 Silver medalist, emerged victorious after a full distance marathon that went five games.
Eventually it would work itself out to the top two players of the tournament playing for the gold medal with Pang and Tomicki on the show table; Tomicki sporting a backhand that no one had yet to been able to stop. Once again we saw the contrasting European and Asian styles in a highly competitive match. Almost all of the second game can be seen here
By the end of the match the Asian style prevailed once again with Pang emerging as the victor by the score of 4-2.
Men’s Singles 18-49 Pool A Medals
Gold- Xue Jie Pang (Singapore)
Silver- Jaroslaw Tomicki (Poland)
Bronze- King Lun Szeto (Hong Kong)
A majority of the divisions start out play in pools that play in a round robin and from those results an elimination bracket would be formed. In the case for both the Men’s (18-49) Singles and Doubles, they were separated into pools A and B for the elimination round. In Pool B, the level of competition was evened out. The matches were far closer than the matches in the previous round robin. In the end Harmohan Sandu (India) would earn the gold.
Men’s Singles 18-49 Pool B Medals
Gold- Harmohan Sandu (India)
Silver- Steve Appleton (England)
Bronze- Igor Kusekeev (Russia)
After a full days’ worth of this high level of Table Tennis I was overwhelmed. On the car ride back my head was aching and my eyes were exhausted. I had just survived my first table tennis tournament. Little did I know that this would only be the beginning of the drama and excitement from the three day event.
Next up were the Men’s Singles (50+) Division. Since only 13 athletes were participating in this level of play it became easier to see the dominant players. With that being said, the 50+ Division was still loaded with incredible players. Specifically, there were four players that were above the rest as far as talent is concerned. The draw would work its way down to a gold medal match between Jose Manuel Abelairas Lavandeira (Spain) and Vladimir Markin (Kazakhstan). This match, similar to the other single gold medal math before it, set up to be another thriller. Two players, both with great offensive topspin shots and an ability to defend using backspin away from the table, duked it out and after seven games between the two they both tallied 66 points. However, Abelairas Lavandeira prevailed by winning a closely fought final game.
Men’s Singles 50+ Medals
Gold- Jose Manuel Abelairas Lavandeira (Spain)
Silver- Vladimir Markin (Russia)
Bronze- Joseph Dheedene (Belgium)
The Women’s Singles Division was dominated by Southeast Asian players. Of the nine competitors, five were from the same region, all of which would end up being the favorites competing for the three medals. Hong Kong looked to be going for a complete podium sweep early on, receiving three of the top four seeds heading into the elimination stage. From there on out though it became a battle of Hong Kong and Taiwan; the lone outsider Wan Ling Chen. Despite the obstacles, she won all of her matches, convincingly, on her way to the top of the medal stand.
Women’s Singles Medals
Gold- Wan Ling Chen (Taiwan)
Silver- Wai Chong Chan (Hong Kong)
Bronze- Fung-ting Lau (Hong Kong)
This would leave us only with doubles, and I did not by far anticipate what I was about to witness. I have always been a fan of doubles court tennis compared to singles. There is more action and strategy to the match instead of true athletic prowess alone being such a strong factor. Same can be said about doubles in table tennis. For the men’s side it would feature a majority of the athletes that were in the singles division and a similar storyline was written. The top overall male players, Pang, Tomicki, and Farcas, carried their teams to the medals in Pool A. Pang’s partner, Rui Jiang (China) did not participate in the singles matches but was a formidable partner for the top singles player as they claimed the top spot. In second was the Polish team of Tomicki and Steuer, which in my opinion were the superior pairing of players whose styles melded perfectly together.
Men’s Doubles 18-49 Pool A Medals
Gold- Xue Jie Pang (Singapore) and Rui Jiang (China)
Silver- Jaroslaw Tomicki (Poland) and Dariusz Steuer (Poland)
Bronze- Dan Sergiu Farcas (Romania) and Paul Puentespina (Philippines)
In the Pool B action there was an under-the-radar storyline developing in the initial round robins. Two pairings may not have put their best effort forward in order to drop to the lower pool, increasing their chances of medaling. However due to both pairs having underperformed, one ended up heading to Pool A despite their actions. On a positive note, this pool did see the first American medal of the event.
Men’s Doubles 18-49 Pool B Medals
Gold- Wing Yeung Ko (Hong Kong) and King Lun Szeto (Hong Kong)
Silver- Georg Weickhardt (Germany) and Glenn Brown (United States)
Bronze- Alex Csibi (Canada) and Angelo Gambrelis (Canada)
From beginning to end, the most intriguing group was that of the Mixed Doubles competition. Part of the reason was the pair Ya Hui Huang (Taiwan) and Csibi were put together as partners for the first time, minutes before the action. They started out the round with a tough match to who would be the eventual champion pair of Jiang and Qing Xu (China), but followed it up with a huge upset over Chu Hiu Hin (Hong Kong) and Lau. Their miracle run though would not last long as they would get eliminated in the quarter-finals of the elimination stage.
Mixed Doubles Medals
Gold- Qing Xu (China) and Rui Jiang (China)
Silver- Wing Yeung Ko (Hong Kong) and Hoi Tik Tai (Hong Kong)
Bronze- Wan Ling Chen (Taiwan) and Paul Puentespina (Philippines)
The event would conclude with both the Men’s 50+ Doubles Division and the Women’s Doubles Division playing in a round robin format for a spot on the podium stand. Unfortunately there were four teams in each division, leaving one pair off. For the men, the result was a mere image of the singles competition. The pair of Markin and Abelairas Lavanderia smoked the rest of the pairs earning themselves the top two honors yet again.
Men’s Doubles 50+ Medals
Gold- Vladimir Markin (Kazakhstan) and Jose Manuel Abelairas Lavanderia (Spain)
Silver- Tony Rodriguez (United States) and Joseph Dheedene (Belgium)
Bronze- Thilak Mendis (Sri Lanka) and Udaya Senarath Yapa (Sri Lanka)
For the women, three teams ended up tied with two wins and a loss, meaning that the podium would be decided by total number of games won. This gave an unusual instance where the gold medalists lost their final match of play.
Women’s Doubles Medals
Gold- Qing Chen (China) and Fung-ting Lau (Hong Kong)
Silver- Wai Chong Chan (Hong Kong) and Hoi Tik Tai (Hong Kong)
Bronze- Wan Ling Chen (Taiwan) and Ya Hui Huang (Taiwan)
Overall the action I saw over these three days was incredible. For me, it was an eye opening, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As an all-inclusive sports fan, table tennis has definitely been added as one of my favorite sports. The action, even between two athletes that are not the same skill level, will always leave you on the edge of your seat. Being at the 2015 Fairfax World Police and Fire Games Table Tennis Competition left me wanting to pick up a paddle and start learning the intricacies of the sport. As a whole, the trajectory of table tennis tends to be upward; at the Smash Table Tennis Club each session was packed, not only from athletes but from pure local spectators as well. I may not know that much about table tennis, but the rest of the United States might want to watch out as Northern Virginia may be breeding some of the next top table tennis athletes.