By Nick Creely
Australian Table Tennis champion Heming Hu understands just what’s ahead of him at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
On the world stage, he is ready to excite and represent Australia with pride.
The 27-year-old from Dandenong firmly believes that his Rio 2016 experience will hold him in good stead this time around, give him an extra tinge of confidence that he can make a significant impact for his country.
Hu, who received his highest Men’s World Ranking of 66 in September last year, is simply counting down the days until the Table Tennis portion of the Games kicks off in Tokyo on Saturday 24 July.
It’s a date to mark down for all local Olympic enthusiasts desperate to get a glimpse of one of the south-east most prized athletes.
He bowed out in Rio 2016 in a 3-0 defeat alongside David Powell and Chris Yan to Hong Kong in the best of five-match series, and is relishing the prospect of giving it another crack with the national colours.
“It’s a huge honour and a dream come true, especially a second time,” he told Star News.
“The team is exactly the same players as last time, this time I can speak for myself and say that I am a far better player than five years ago and carry a lot more confidence going into these games than Rio 2016.”
On the Rio Olympic Games, Hu said the experience will ensure he won’t be overawed by the occasion, but instead use it to remain level headed and focused.
“It gives me mental preparation in what it’s going to feel like, what it’s going to look like, and what to expect,” he said.
“Once I come into the match, it’ll be love-all, and anyone can win from there. Every point that’s won is gold.”
The world has changed drastically since the 2016 games – largely due to the current Covid-19 pandemic – something Hu believes has been a catalyst in changing his mindset.
With raw honesty, Hu said it’s been a wake-up call for him personally.
“From an athlete’s perspective with lockdowns and borders, it’s been really good for me personally,” he said of Covid’s impact on his career.
“At the start of 2020, we had the Olympic trials and all of that, and in 2019 I was winning everything, I was the Australian Singles champion, and at the start of 2020 I was in an arrogant period of time, and nobody could tell me anything, my ego was super high.
“And at the Olympic trials I played very, very badly – with that said, lockdown gave me the chance to work on the things that were really important.
“It gave me the chance to do a lot of personal development and do all the life things that I needed to do mentally.
“I worked on my mindset heavily, and I came out of the lockdowns a much stronger person, and a much better player. I could finally try different equipment; I’ve got more strength, got different serves and am in much better physical shape.”
While Hu has been busy training, both mentally and physically for the games, he admits that with a lack of game practice it’s been a challenge for not only himself, but all of the athletes looking to qualify for the Games.
“It’s been one of the things from lockdown that hasn’t helped at all, we haven’t been able to get many matches at all,” he said.
“We’ve had small one day tournaments here and there, but nothing substantial, and nothing that goes for a week long or more.
“In that part, it’s been a struggle – we’ve got the National Championships this week (on the Sunshine Coast) and I look forward to that.”
Hu knows that these Olympics will be a different experience, with athletes to go into a bubble to ensure that the games go ahead without a hitch.
“The bubble will be interesting – I haven’t thought about it’ll work, it’ll be tight with all these rules, but in today’s world it’s what you have to do,” he said.
“I’m just grateful that the games are actually going ahead.”
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games now just under a month away from kicking off, Hu spoke of the profound influence his family has had on his career and life.
“I would love to thank my family, my brother, my parents,” he said.
“My mother went to China with me when I was in Year 12 and she came with me, spent time away from the family to help me, cook for me and take care of me while I played Table Tennis full time and studied part time.
“When I was 15, 16, my Dad used to work a full time, sometimes not even eat; drive me straight to the city for soccer practice with the national team, who were older than me and better than me. He did that for years.
“And my brother also came to coach me at tournaments – he would pay for his own tickets interstate to coach me and support me. At a certain point I needed a high-level coach along the way to guide me. He took on extra players so I could have one hour with that coach. He paid for that. Without them nothing would be possible.
“There are a lot of people to thank along the way, but without these three people this isn’t possible, they’ve cared the most on the core level.”
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games open on 23 July.