Sweden once was the best table tennis nation in the world. Three times in a row from 1989 the male team captured the World Championships gold medals.
Jan-Ove Waldner became World singles champion twice and Olympic Game singles winner once. Jörgen Persson beat Waldner in the Singles final at the Worlds in 1991.
But after a surprising fourth world team championships gold in the year 2000 a more than a decade of extreme success was over. Since then Sweden has won no golds whatsoever at the Worlds, nor at the Olympics. How was it possible that a small country with some 15 000 table tennis players at the time, and a handful of them professionals, could become stronger than China, with more full time players than the total number of players in Sweden?
The answer was a mixture of a number of things, of course. To mention a few:
– A very strong public interest made table tennis very hip in the society after Sweden got a pair of World doubles champions in the 1960ties (Kjell Johansson and Hans Alsér), and a World singles Champion in Stellan Bengtsson 1971.
– A cluster of extremely gifted players with extreme will and dedication to win appeared at the same time, forming a group in which everybody challenged and pushed everybody to become number one – and at the same time were best friends, sharing their table tennis knowledge with each other which gained them all in their individual development.
– A system of strong clubs and an ambitious Swedish association which could deliver enough good coaches and the necessary financial needs for the players to increase their capacity at the table.
– A China that too late understood that their base in playing style, the pen holders with pimples out on the one and only side of the racket, did no longer catch up with the development of the game, heavily pushed by the speed glued rubber which increased the spin and the speed for the Europeans.
But lacking a fruitful environment no matter how much talent and gift and passion there is in a player. Making the right things the right way at the right time with the right people at the right place are crucial for optimising a talent´s potential. For the Swedish world champions during the 1990ties it looked a little different from player to player, but the frame was pretty much similar for all of them, and the two who went all the way to also become singles world champions had a lot in common when it comes down to environment:
– they started to play at an early age (6 years old);
– they directly played in two clubs with high ambitions who hired coaches to rise the quality of the ordinary training (Spårvägen for Waldner, Halmstad for Persson);
– they were the youngest in a group of dedicated hard working players from the very start, groups which besides from training and playing together also formed a social fellowship who had great fun with each other.
– they had role models in the own club or in the close neighbourhood of world top class level when starting to play (Ulf Thorsell for Waldner, Stellan Bengtsson for Persson).
– Waldner and Persson more or less immediately started to compete almost every weekend, playing loads of matches in which they step by step learned how to overcome obstacles against different opponents and plying styles, and solve tactical and technical challenges that occurred at the table.
– 14 years old they went to China for longer training trips where they learned upsides and downsides of the Chinese training culture, and, most importantly, what it really would take in effort to defeat also the best Chinese.
– They soon belonged to the best players of their age in Sweden as well in Europe. On a youth national team level and a male national team level everything started all over again, but on higher and higher level – skilful coaches, immense amount of hard training, a challenging group of competitors and friends, a lot of international competition with new obstacles to conquer and challenges to meet, think over, discuss. And solve and incorporate in the individual playing style.
After some 17-18 years from when they started they were ready to take over the world´s table tennis scene, starting by beating China 5-0 in the team finals in Dortmund 1989.
If the Swedish male national team 1989 had four players among top ten in the world before the championships in Dortmund the situation is a lot different today. Sweden is for sure a top 8 nation in the world but not really close to compete about the medals at World Championships and Olympic games.
The situation has improved over the last years with players like Kristian Karlsson and Mattias Karlsson, both born 1991, slowly climbing on the World Ranking List. At the last team World Championships Sweden ended fifth, after losing with no game win to China in the quarter final.
And there are some hot spots still in Sweden, where one really tries to create environments for a new Swedish generation to go all the way to the world top class. One is Jörgen Persson´s home town Halmstad, situated on the Swedish south west coast where the two Karlssons moved and under the coaching from World Champion Ulf “Tickan” Carlsson got a momentum in their respectively development.
One other is Eslöv in south of Sweden, only one half hours car ride from the Danish capital Copenhagen. Eslöv last year took a big step into the very top level of European club table tennis by reaching the finals of the Champions Leauge, after beating clubs like Chartres (France) and Gdansk (Poland) on their way to the finals. There Eslöv met French Pontoise, won the first match 3-1 at home, losing the second away with the same figures. But Pontoise had won one more game and therefore captured the prestigious title.
Eslöv has totally dominating the Swedish male table tennis over the last decade, winning the national team championships eleven times out of the last twelve years. The women´s team has also become Swedish champions several times. And on the youth side some talents fathers and mothers move their whole families to Eslöv, only for the reason that their kids shall get the best environment to develop their table tennis skills. So for the 2016 Europe top 10 winner in the boys under 15 Truls Möregårdh´s family – so for the family of Nomin Baasan, number one in Sweden born 2004.
What can Eslöv as a club offer then? How can a small town on the countryside with some 18 000 inhabitants be such a magnet for gifted players and their families? Well, Eslöv matches the frame of which Compass think is necessary for long term success at the very top level:
– Right conditions from the beginning to the top level.
Eslöv has a project reqruting players in the nursery schools, they are the best Swedish club among youth players – and has champion teams both on the male and female side.
– Coaches with very good educational and communicative abilities, secures a strong competence in table tennis from beginner to world class level.
Peter Sartz, former national coach in Denmark and during this time forming 2009 European champion and 2005 bronze medallist at the World´s Mr Michael Maze, is head coach in Eslöv. Beside Sartz works Peter Andersson, a part time Swedish national coach, as responsible for the Champion Leauge´s team.. Very good female players like Naomi Owen and Daniela Moskovits start their coach careers by working directly with the young beginners.
– good sparring and possibility to reach the table tennis hall every day.
Besides from a number of first class players in different age categories Eslöv also has Xu Hui, a Chinese who lives in the town since many years and still plays on a top 20 – level in the world. Any player can practise any time, the hall is open 24 hours a day.
– A group of players that pushes each other to improve (like the Swedish national team during the 1980ties and 1990ties, se above).
With a lot of ambitious players in different ages and on different levels of playing skill, there are always groups to join at any phase from beginner to star.
– Support team has good connections and influence on schools and nursery schools.
In Eslöv young talents move to the town also from neighbour cities because the club and the school cooperates well. The players have the opportunities to practice almost once a day during school time from 10-11 years old.
– Passion for the sport.
Eslöv has a determined will to develop the club with the players. One achieving a former goal, immediately a new one is decided.
All together: for an ambitious hardworking talent who loves to play table tennis Eslöv is the place to be.
Eslöv after the latest Swedish team championship victory.
Thomas Andersson, chairman of the club and one of three people in Eslöv appointed honourable town citizens, the other two is a super rich businessman and the most known comedian in Sweden.
Xu Hui – Eslöv´s Chinese anchor who would be top 20 in the world if playing international tournaments. Xu lives in Eslöv and plan to stay in the club also after his active career. Besides he practices now and then with his three years old son.
Eslöv has captured the Swedish team championships eleven out of the last twelve years.
Peter Sartz. When returning to Sweden after many successful years in Denmark, Eslöv was the natural choice for the coach who made Michael Maze big in table tennis.
Nomin Baasan, Swedish champion in girls under 13 years old. The whole family moved to Eslöv from a small town 300 kilometres north of Eslöv, to get the best conditions for Noomin to develop her interest and talent for table tennis
Truls Möregårdh – Eslöv´s coming man, winner of Europe top 10 under 15 and ranked number 5 in the world in his age.