Looking for U.S. challengers to the Chinese table tennis dynasty at this summer's Olympic Games? You'll be rooting on a California teenager if you do.
As reported by ESPN and the Associated Press, among other sources, all three of the female berths for American positions in the summer Olympics were earned by Californians aged 16 or younger. Lily Zhang, a 15-year-old Palo Alto (Calif.) High student, 15-year-old Pasadena (Calif.) Westridge School student Erica Wu and 16-year-old San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian School table tennis star Ariel Hsing earned the three U.S. berths on the table tennis team for the London games. They'll be joined at the Olympics by 20-year-old Tim Wang, who earned the only American male slot in the competition.
Hsing clinched her Olympic berth by winning the women's tournament of the North American Table Tennis trials, with Zhang clinching a spot by winning her final match at the event and Wu handed a previously unconfirmed third spot at the Games which vested when Zhang won her match against Canadian player Anqi Luo.
More heroically for both Zhang and Wu, Zhang, the 15-year-old Northern Californian native, played the entire North American Table Tennis trials with a shoulder injury, refusing to back off from training leading up to the event despite doctor's orders.
"The doctor told me to take a break for six weeks, but I didn't really listen to her," Zhang told ESPN. "But now I can relax.
"It feels like I've been waiting for this opportunity for so long, it's been my dream ever since I was a little kid. Now that it's finally here, it feels like it's still a dream. It just feels amazing."
Of course, some might point out that Zhang practically is a kid, particularly when compared to the bulk of other Olympic participants who will be on site in July. While other teenagers will be working temporary summer jobs or traveling through Europe on pleasure trips, the California table tennis trio will be forging their way through the sport's signature event, all while trying to re-establish the U.S. as a legitimate global contender in the years to come.
"We have to improve our skills and also work on being better people," Hsing told ESPN in a profile of the three teenage table tennis stars.