Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Hubert Lawrence | Table Tennis needs selection fix

Published:Thursday | October 5, 2017 | 12:19 AM
President of the Jamaica Table Tennis Association, Godfrey Lothian
National Table Tennis player Yvonne Foster.

When it comes to team selection, track and field is a model for other Jamaican sports. It is the ultimate meritocracy. Its National Senior Championship is the gateway to national team membership. The Nationals take place on a date announced months in advance, and the qualifying requirements are well known.

Exemptions are few and far between. When they do occur, they are subject to well-defined rules. In this environment, the athlete literally picks himself. Such clarity isn't evident in a recent table tennis matter. The sport's governing body staged a trial on September 16 ostensibly to pick an eight-member team to play for Jamaica in the Commonwealth Games next year. Then it left out Alphanso Morris, the third-placed male player, and Solesha Young, Brittany Murray and Larrisa McLaughlin the runner-up, third placer, and number four finishers among the ladies.

Morris just turned 59 and Young is young at 13,but that isn't always critical. The super Swedes Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson played at a high level well into their forties, and Spain's long-serving Chinese import, He Zhi Wen, has just retired, Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan, recently became the youngest to win an International Table Tennis Federation World Tour event at just 14.


Age factor


If age was a factor, that should have been stated before the Trials.

Young, Brittany Murray and Larrisa McLaughlin, the second, third and fourth placed girls at the Trials, were supplanted by players, who didn't contest the selection tournament. One of them is national champion Shenique Clare, who lives abroad. Local administrators may have felt they owed Clare the nod because she flew in to play the National Championships in August, only to learn of its last-minute postponement to a date in November.


Other selectees


The other two selectees are the formidable former national champion Yvonne Foster and former national player Dadrian Lewis. Foster dominated local table tennis for years and placed second to Clare at last year's Nationals, while Lewis topped the 2017 trials for the Caribbean Region Championships. Foster couldn't get off work to play in the September 16 event, which was reportedly called on short notice. Lewis was ill and tended a doctor's certificate.

Presumably, the belief is that these ladies will be in great shape in April when the Games bounce around.

The trouble is that no one seems to have told the players that results at the Trials wouldn't ensure spots on the team to the Games. Had an age stipulation been declared, and had it been known, there would be exemptions for the absentees, the Trials contestants would have known exactly what they had to do to qualify.

That's what happens in track and field. When Usain Bolt, Elaine Thompson, Janieve Russell and Hansle Parchment triggered the JAAA top three world-ranking medical exemption last year, there was no mystery.

The rule was known to all and everyone knew that third place only earned Jevaughn Minzie, Julian Forte, Kali Davis-White, Kaliese Spencer and Andrew Riley a place in the waiting room for the 100m, 200m, the women's 200m, 400m hurdles and the 110m hurdles respectively.

The rest is history. Bolt and Thompson regained fitness and dominated the sprints at the 2016 Olympic Games, while Russell came back to reach the 400m hurdles final, and the ailing Parchment was replaced by Riley in the sprint hurdles. Minzie, Forte, Davis-White, Spencer and Riley all knew the deal. Morris, Young, Murray and McLaughlin didn't.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.