Taking the table tennis world by storm, could this 13-year-old Japanese superstar be the one to finally defeat the decades-long Chinese monopoly on the sport?
When I think back to what I was doing when I was 13 years old it’s hard to think past messing around with my friends in school and then spending endless carefree hours on my PlayStation when I came home.
There were no life pressures and the biggest worry I had was whether the girl I had a crush on in school noticed who I was.
Yet for Tomokazu Harimoto 13 is the where he has taken the professional world of Table Tennis by storm.
Table Tennis — a game of technique, agility, and explosive speed, has been dominated in the last decade by China. The current top four in the world are from the nation, and they have held a firm grip over the sport’s three biggest events — the Olympic Games, the World Singles Championship, and the World Team Championship — for over a decade.
It’s hard to think of another sport that is more dominated than the autonomy that China has over Table Tennis.
Their grip is so strong the sport’s governing body, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) had to cap the number of Chinese players allowed to play in the World Championship, with only five allowed to enter.
The Table Tennis world has been desperately seeking for a talent who can potentially defeat the all-conquering Chinese.
There have been times where the world thought they found their man — Jun Mitzutani and Dimitrij Ovtcharov were seen as the people to do it in modern times, but they have never been able to truly stop the leading Chinese players.
However, with Tomokazu Harimoto, the world may have just found that person.
Born in 2003 in Japan, Harimoto was destined to be a record breaker in the sport. Both his parents competed for China in the 1990s and placed a bat in their son’s hands when he was at the age of two.
In his short time on tour the records are already tumbling: in October 2015 he became the youngest player ever to progress to the first round of an ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles event at the Polish Open. In June 2016, he became the youngest male to ever win an under-21 world tour event at the Japan Open. In December, he became the youngest player to ever win the Junior World Championship, an event for the globe’s best players under the age of 18, where the previous youngest winner was 15. Last month, he became the youngest male player to ever reach a pro-tour final after getting all the way to the last game at the Indian Open.
Harimoto has already placed himself firmly in the Top 100 in the world rankings and astonishingly is the youngest player in the Top 250.
At times it’s felt that the world has been so desperate to find a player to match the Chinese that they gave the torch to people who were no way ready or able to handle the pressure, but everything just seems different with this young man.
In a recent interview Harimoto declared “My ultimate dream is to be 2020 Olympic champion in Tokyo.”
The Japanese sports authorities certainly believe this dream can be — they recently placed him at the centre of their new and extremely expensive Olympic Medal programme.
He seems to relish having the spotlight shined firmly on him, proven by the ease in which he competed in front of thousands of watching countrymen in his home tournament last summer.
There is no doubt we are witnessing the beginnings of a future superstar who finally, after years of torment, could be the world’s answer to the Chinese medal-winning monopoly.