Champion wants to give something back to NZ

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2014
Li Chunli
Mark Round
BACK IN BLACK: Veteran table tennis player Li Chunli will compete for New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games.

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An ageless Li Chunli had plenty of reasons to come out of retirement but most of them weren't about her own ambitions.

The 52-year-old will complete a remarkable comeback when she competes at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month.

A multiple medallist in Manchester 12 years ago - gold, silver and two bronze medals, which also represent New Zealand's total number of Commowealth Games medals won - Chunli has coached the New Zealand women's team at the past two editions.

Since Manchester she had been playing and coaching in a lucrative Japanese league, before answering the call and returning to New Zealand to coach.

And, while the New Zealand team has been improving under her watch, without Chunli's qualification muscle, it has been difficult for New Zealand to make strides internationally, making it harder for those who already have to dedicate significant time and money to play table tennis for their country.

Most of all, Chunli was eager to give something back to the New Zealand Olympic Committee and those people who had supported her Olympic ambitions when she first migrated to New Zealand from China in the late 1980s.

"They helped me a lot. The Olympics was my dream and when I came here they helped me after China had not been very supportive during that time," Chunli said.

"My Olympic dream came true so I would like to return something to them as well."

At her peak, Chunli was ranked as high as 19 in singles in the world but, after nearly a decade out of the sport, she is fighting her way back into the top 100.

She never put down her paddle despite stepping away from international competition and these days is considered a dedicated trainer who practises as much as time allows.

Chunli is the first to admit that her game had stalled while she was concentrating on coaching, especially her footwork, and it's taken a great deal to get her back into shape.

Chunli's singles ranking in terms of the Commonwealth is much healthier - just inside the top eight - and she could be a medal chance in Glasgow if things go her way.

Her difficult right-handed pen-hold attacking style makes her an awkward prospect and she's been working on aspects of her techniqe that will hopefully pay dividends in Scotland.

"There's no-one like me; I'm speecial," she said.

A four-time Olympian, Chunli will continue to try to drive down her world ranking in a bid to qualify for Rio in two years' time.

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Again, that takes money and time, which aren't easy to find.

While Chunli could easily find funding and sponsorship overseas, she remains committed to the country that believed in her.

- The Southland Times

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