On Sunday, the European Team Table Tennis Championships will begin in Sweden. Pure routine for Timo Boll, you might think. But a year before the Olympics he has to fight for his place in the German team.
Eight times European champion in singles, five times in doubles, seven times with the team: Germany’s most successful table tennis pro Timo Boll has collected European titles in the course of his long career like some football pros collect the jerseys of their opponents.
Another European Team Championship begins in Sweden on Sunday. This time, however, Boll is faced with an experience that he has never known before. The 42-year-old has to prove himself and fight for his place in the German team. A long injury break and the strong internal competition have turned the longstanding face of German table tennis into a kind of challenger. Because this European Championship from September 10th to 17th in Malmö is about Boll’s actual goal: the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Boll wants to go to Paris
At the age of 43, Boll definitely wants to take part in the most important sporting event in the world again next summer. It would be his sixth Olympics. This prospect motivates him to “torment himself,” he said. But it is no longer as natural as it was in Athens in 2004, in London in 2012 or in Tokyo in 2021 that he would make it to Paris in sporting terms. “As a national coach, I would never nominate a player just because his name is Timo Boll,” said Jörg Roßkopf of the German Press Agency. “There’s no such thing.”
There are two factors that make it difficult to fulfill Boll’s Olympic dream. In the first half of the year he was out for several months with a shoulder injury. He completely missed the World Cup in South Africa and did not play at the European Games. Due to a lack of match practice, the former number one in the world rankings fell back to 66th place in this ranking.
And then there’s the competition: Dang Qiu is European champion in singles, Dimitrij Ovtcharov took third place at the Tokyo Olympics. Patrick Franziska was among the top 20 in the world for years. Benedikt Duda recently won World Championship silver and European Championship gold with the German team. Only two of them can play singles in Paris 2024. Another player gets a place in the team competition.
“In the end there is a nomination that is definitely tough,” said Roßkopf. “It was much easier for years because Ovtcharov and Boll had always emerged as individual players.”
In 2004 Roßkopf and Boll even played together at the Olympics. “Timo and I get along so well that at the end there will be an open discussion and a decision that we will definitely not have a problem with – no matter which direction it goes. He should fight for it until the last day, at to play the Olympics.” And: “We all know how often and how quickly Timo Boll came back from injury.”
The entire European Championship nomination is already subordinate to the long-term goal of the Olympic Games. Ovtcharov, Dang Qiu and Franziska aren’t even there in Malmö because they need a break from competition and a targeted build-up of form after the many international tournaments in recent months. Instead, they put in a training phase lasting several weeks in Düsseldorf.
With Boll it’s exactly the opposite after his injury. “The match practice at the European Championship will help me to get back to my desired form more quickly,” he said before leaving for Sweden. “After the long break, I still lack instinct. But physically I’m in a state that no longer worries me.” Now he needs one thing above all: competitions.
That is why the record European champions from Borussia Düsseldorf are scheduled to lead a comparatively inexperienced team with Duda (TTC Schwalbe Bergneustadt), Ricardo Walther (ASV Grünwettersbach), Cedric Meissner (1. FC Saarbrücken) and Kay Stumper (Borussia Düsseldorf) at this European Championship. “For him it is the first time in his career that he is in such a situation,” said Roßkopf. “But if anyone can do it, it’s Timo Boll.”
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