The Rise and Fall of Swedish Table Tennis
• 1989 Chinese dominance shattered. Sweden win World Team Final by an incredible 5 – 0! Waldner beats Persson in the singles final
• 1990 Swedish men win the European Men’s Team Final. Appelgren wins singles and beats Polish legend Grubba
• 1991 Sweden beats China again in the World Team Final. Persson beats Waldner in the singles final. P. Karlsson/T von Scheele take gold in the doubles
• 1992 Waldner Olympic Champion 3 – 0 over Gatien. Sweden wins European Men’s Team Final. Marie Svensson finishes 2nd in the European Top 12
• 1993 Sweden beat China again in the World Team Final
• 1994 Marie Svensson is European Women’s Singles Champion. Magnus Molin wins the cadet event in the European Youths
• 1995 David Gustavsson is unofficial World Junior Champion in Tokyo
• 1996 After 14 years Waldner wins his first European Men’s Singles title. He also wins the European Top 12 for the 7th time
• 1997 Waldner wins the World Singles title for the second time, 7 – 0 in matches and 21 – 0 in games! Jens Lundqvist wins Junior European Top 12
• 1998 P. Karlsson wins the European Top 12. Marie Svensson wins 2 medals in the Europeans
• 1999 Waldner reaches semis in the World Singles
• 2000 Sweden beats China 3 – 2 in an epic Team Final: Persson unbeaten. Waldner takes silver in the Olympics and Persson also reaches the semis. Sweden takes gold in European Team and P. Karlsson wins the singles
• 2001 F. Hakansson reaches semi-finals in the Swedish Open
• 2004 Waldner (almost 39) reaches semi-finals of the Olympics. Sweden in 4th place in World Team Championships
• 2008 At 42 Persson reaches the semi-finals of the Olympics. Robert Svensson/Jon Persson reach the semis of the European doubles
Sweden has had unprecedented success in table tennis over a period of 20 odd years. The men’s team was in every World Team Final from 1983 through to 1995 against China. From 1989 to 2000 Sweden won no fewer than 30 championship medals and 10 more over the last 10 years. Much of this was due to the fact that Waldner and Persson have both had an unbelievably long life among the top few players in the world (Waldner was in fact in the top 10 men in the world for an incredible 18 years in a row). Even now the top young Swedes have not really made the breakthrough and in 2010, who was the Swedish Closed Champion, yes Waldner again for the 9th time!
Waldner: ‘To be the best in Europe is not too difficult, Europe is weak now, especially as many of the older players, who have been very good, are stopping. But to match China is just not realistic. The older players in Europe did it but we were rather special. The older players for example in Sweden had a tough baptism. If you lost to another Swede you never heard the end of it. The competition in Sweden was murderous but this really pushed us to the limit.’
Appelgren: ‘At times we had in Sweden 5 to 6 players in the top 10 in the world.’ (Only a few months ago Appelgren at 48 beat Otcharov from Germany, ranked 14 in the world).
Persson: ‘Our generation was just too good for the younger players. We kept on developing and growing. Even in the early years we had Kjell, Tickan and Stellan in front of us as role models.’
Persson is the only player in Sweden still in the top 20 in the world. Jens Lundqvist (No 19 in 2003) is currently 49. Sweden now sees its best hope for the future in its young players; Mattias and Kristian Karlsson (18 years), Anthony Tran (15 years) and Hampus Sȍderlund (14 years). All these are among the top in Europe in their age groups. As Thomas von Scheele (Swedish Junior Team Captain) has stated: Two key areas must be fostered with our players –
• the willingness to take responsibility for their own development
• total self motivation
He states: ‘Too often in Europe the coaches help the young players too much, they must draw back and help the players to assume responsibility for themselves and for their own future. In this way it will be easier for them to take the step from the junior to the senior game. They will develop more quickly and be able to think for themselves.’
What advice does Werner Schlager, the last European to win a world title, have to give to the players of the future?
• Train with the same intensity, concentration, focus and attention as you do in matches
• Always think to be creative and innovative and work in combinations, so that you flow from one sequence into another
• Table tennis is too quick for you to control everything, but you should try to be so well prepared that you can cope with any situation
• Go your own way and create a playing style which you know suits your technique, body and character 100%
In comparison with the Asian players the best in Europe are considerably older and there seems to be little sign of an in-depth development throughout Europe which would produce players in quantity to match the Asians. Perhaps it was the case that in the 1980’s and 1990’s we had not only in Sweden but throughout Europe a group of players (Gatien, Primorac and Saive for example) who were a product of their times and whose achievements and the way they evolved cannot be duplicated today.