Simon says Sweden - Tomlinson eyes Scandinavian return in Tokyo 2020 preparation
Simon Tomlinson, Jamaica's table tennis champion, says he will head to Sweden to improve his game when his studies at the University of Technology (UTech) are over.
Tomlinson has his heart set on competing for Jamaica in the 2020 Olympics and believes a return to Sweden will help him to train and compete at a level that will make this dream come true.
"I'm still a student-athlete, so for the short-term, I'm focusing on finishing my degree," he tabled in an interview at the Barbican Table Tennis Centre in Kingston recently. "Of course, I'm training as well as I can, given that I still need to focus most of my time on schoolwork.
"As soon as that's finished, I'll be looking to go back to Sweden, go back to playing the league, to stay there long-term and be in a competitive environment to prepare myself for Japan (2020 Olympics)."
Like his mentor, three-time Caribbean champion Stephen Hylton, the 24-year-old Tomlinson has trained in Sweden before. The Scandinavian country has produced three world champions in Stellan Bengtsson, Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson, Olympic bronze medallist Erik Lindh, and three-time European champion Mikael Appelgren with Waldner, the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winner, regarded by many as the finest player of all time.
After a lull, the Swedes are on the rise again. Aggressive left-hander Kristian Karlsson played his way into the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Cup semi-finals with another Swedish leftie, Par Gerell, in the quarter-finals.
PLAYERS TO BE CHALLENGED
Among the players Tomlinson must challenge to qualify for a regional Olympic spot is Brazilian Hugo Calderano, who starred at the recent Olympic table tennis competition in Rio de Janeiro.
During 2016, Calderano rose from number 77 to number 31 in the ITTF world ranking. In Rio, he reached the round of 16 in the men's singles. Other noted players from the region include France-based world number 157 Mexican Marcos Madrid and another Brazilian, Thiago Monteiro, ranked at 155.
"It's hard to compete with those guys," Tomlinson estimated, "so it would be good to be on sort of more even footing with them the next time around."
Tomlinson expects to complete his UTech studies in 2017.
Despite the respect the UTech Sports Management student has for Calderano and the region's other fine table tennis players, he isn't scared. He clearly feels that he can join Garfield Jones, Hylton and Michael Hyatt as Jamaican table tennis Olympians.
"I have more experience," said the young man, who has played on the European circuit and who has played in black, green, and-gold at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. "Being able to draw on that experience to help in competition should help a lot," he concluded.