Pitter patter or ping pong?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong table tennis officials are engrossed in their own version of Baywatch - Babywatch. And it's a tad embarrassing. All eyes are on Tie Yana, and the question on everyone's lips over the next few months will be: 'Is she pregnant?'

As of this week, we can say with some certainty that the city's top female player is not pregnant. We know because we asked her husband, Tang Peng, at the Hang Seng Table Tennis Academy graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

Why all this interest surrounding the marital life of Hong Kong's first couple of ping pong? Well, it's because Tie holds the best hopes for a medal at the London Olympics next summer.

A couple of weeks ago, Tie booked her Olympic berth after topping Hong Kong's qualifying list for the 2012 Games. She was named eighth on the list of 28 players worldwide who gained direct entry at the end of the world championships in Rotterdam. Tang also made it in the men's qualifiers.

But there is a fundamental difference - nature's choice that it is the female of our species who carries a child. Tang can smile and carry on playing the game, but it will be Tie who will have to stay home and bear nature's gift.

And having turned 32 this month, Tie feels the clock is ticking, resulting in her declaring that a baby comes first, the game second. 'We will stick to our plan of having a baby. It will not be changed because of the Olympics,' Tie says.

Yet, the Hong Kong Table Tennis Association harbours hopes she will stay in the sport for another 15 months, until the London Olympics is over. 'She is our best prospect for a medal,' says Tony Yue Kwok-leung, chairman of the table tennis association. 'We hope she will reconsider.'

At the recent world championships, Tie lost in the last 16 to a Singaporean opponent, Feng Tianwei, formerly from China. She lost in the seventh and final game, having held a match point. She then partnered Jiang Huajun to win a bronze medal in the women's doubles. These performances confirmed she can still mix it with the best and can go on a medal-winning run at the Olympics.

Logic supports that claim. At the world championships, the Chinese women who swept all the medals, fielded seven players. At the Olympics, they will be allowed only two, opening the way for other countries to stake their claims for a medal.

If Tie gets a good draw and doesn't come up against the two mainland players until the latter part of the competition, and if she hits peak form, a medal is not out of the question.

Hong Kong won a silver medal in men's doubles - Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching - at the 2004 Athens Games, but this discipline has been axed for the London Olympics as the sport streamlines itself.

Next year there will only be four events: men's and women's singles, and a men's and women's team event. Tie will not only be key in the singles, but will also be an integral part of the team event. If she is in maternity dress by then, the hopes of a medal in both events fade dramatically.

The stakes are high, but the good thing about Hong Kong is that this city still abides by the rule of law and no pressure is being exerted on Tie. The association might wish she puts the interests of the game ahead of motherhood for the next 15 months, but officials have made it clear the decision belongs to Tie and Tang.

'We won't force them to take the decision of postponing having a baby. This is Hong Kong, we will respect the individual's decision,' Yue says.

We are lucky to be living here. We all know of cases where the individual has to sacrifice everything - including their family - for the common cause.

Thankfully, here in Hong Kong, we live in a society where we are able to make our own choices. And choices can be tough, according to Tang.

'Some of our friends want Tie to have a baby right away, while others want her to wait until after the Olympics before starting a family. Being an athlete, there is pressure on us all the time. But this is additional pressure,' Tang said.

Tie, who is still in training on the mainland, first represented Hong Kong at the 2004 Athens Games before qualifying again for Beijing in 2008. She reached the last eight in the singles on both occasions. 'This will be her last chance to win a medal,' Yue reminds us. More pressure.

Tie and Tang married in December 2009 during the East Asian Games. It has been 15 months now, but the next 15 months will be the most crucial for the couple.

'We will let nature decide,' says Tang.