Chunli Li, table tennis player undefeated in NZ age 57 | Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends


When I came to New Zealand, a lot of people they played table tennis just for fun. After the game, they like to drink beer. They’re not like a professional, training everyday. Quite easy to beat them. (laughs) (paddle whips) (electronic music) (ball bounces) I was born in Guiping in China, 1962. Lot of people in China. For table tennis the
competition is really strong. I started playing table
tennis when I was nine. When I was fifteen,
the China junior team, they picked me up so I
can train in Beijing with the top juniors in China. My dad tells me, say,
Chunli play very well, table tennis, so you can try and then sisters can play together. I say, well, I don’t have a choice then. (laughs) [Chunli] When I was twenty, we win first national team title. I think, I am very good in China but I lose one game, so I don’t have a chance to represent China for
the world championship. (pensive music) I first came to New Zealand
with the Chinese junior team in 1982. When Chunli arrived in the 1980s, New Zealand had a lot of players. There were many small sub associations and lots of people
playing socially as well as having a drive for nationals. So there’s lot and lots of players. People didn’t really
have that professional attitude which they do today. Manawatū Table Tennis Association invited me to come to Palmerston
North to become a coach. But when I play, no one can beat me. So the Manawatū they say ‘Hey Chunli, can you become a coach and a player?’ But for honest, in
Palmerston North, they don’t have a lot of people
that play table tennis. So, I feel, sometimes, a little bit lonely. [Simeon] She didn’t have
the endless number of really high quality practise partners that she did in China which made it hard for her. When I win first New Zealand title, 1987, the New Zealand Table Tennis
Association, they ask me to play for New Zealand. Yeah, of course. I am happy. [Interviewer] Did you ever lose a match? No. [Interviewer] Was anyone ever close? Not really. (laughs) No. [Chunli] My sister, Karen, came to New Zealand in 1994 1994 so, we can train everyday. [Karen] We love to play
with each other because table tennis need very
good partner to training with and can build up the skills, build up our fitness, build
up our games together. [Simeon] Chunli won
nine national titles and there was no one anywhere near her. Her younger sister, Karen, would have been the next main opposition for her. We had some good players
but, man, Chunli was really a step above. [Announcer] New Zealand! (crowd cheers) [Chunli] 2002, I went
to Manchester for the Commonwealth Games to
represent New Zealand. Now going into Commonwealth
Games, Chunli was actually seeded fourth. So there were three very
good players ahead of her. [Chunli] When I went to
breakfast, when I went to dinner, when I walk to the dining room, I’m always thinking my game. I never talking to anyone. It’s during that time, it’s a lot, lots of games on for her. Always finish the first
one and then going to prepare for the next one. 2002 Manchester, I’m already 40. I don’t think my age is any problem. Chinese women players
generally finish by the time they are 25 or 26. But it doesn’t mean those
people don’t have the skills and the fitness to keep on going. Karen and Chunli made a really strong team because they’re siblings
and they know each other extremely well and were well prepared. [Woman] Yes! [Referee] 8-3 (Crowd claps) [Woman] Yes! [Referee] 4-8 [Announcer] Another missed shot there. [Referee] Chunli. [Announcer] Standby. All the New Zealanders, the
other team, all going to sit down in the stage to cheer for us. And say, ‘Go Chunli, go Karen!’ [Announcer] Fourth game. [Referee] Play on please. [Announcer] Have they
picked up a weakness? [Girl] Yeah! (crowd cheers) [Announcer] Sweet gold
for the Singaporeans! We just needed a little
bit more to get to the gold, you know. But that time we very, very happy. [Announcer] They would
be completely chuffed about their silver medal. Both Chunli and Karen
were disappointed about losing the finals but they also, I think, acknowledge that they’d
done particularly well to get there. They weren’t seeded to get to the final. But Chunli being a
professional, her mind switched and focus got back to the
singles pretty quickly. [Audience] Oh! [Referee] 7-8 (crowd claps) [Announcer] Tremendous rally. [Referee] 9-7 [Announcer] The way she
stayed in that point, Li Chunli hopping all over the place. The girl that Chunli played in the final, Li Jiawei, Chunli had lost to her in the final of the Commonwealth
championship the year before and it was a very close match. And so, a lot of Chunli’s preparation involved preparing her game to play the same person again. (crowd cheers) [Announcer] It’s there. [Referee] 8-10 [Announcer] Two gold medal points for the New Zealander, Li Chunli. (crowd cheers) [Announcer] And what a way to finish it! (Chunli celebrates) [Referee] 11-8 [Announcer] And a glorious victory for the 40 year old, Li Chunli. (crowd cheers) [Announcer] Incredible stuff. [Chunli] When I stood up to get my medal I feel very proud of and very happy. [Announcer] Representing New Zealand, Li Chunli. Li Chunli. [Announcer] Li Chunli, a
very, very happy winner. 40 year old that’s
represented New Zealand for a long, long time. [Simeon] She learned her
table tennis in China but New Zealand was in her
heart when she played and she really did
perform with distinction. She played 26 games and she won 24 of them. So four medals at the Commonwealth Games. (inspiring music) You move on from Commonwealth Games to the Olympics and it’s just the volume of world class players there. But at the Olympics,
and she’s been to four Olympics, she always
ended up with bad draws against, a number of times, it was eventual winners. So, it was hard for kiwis
to really appreciate how good she was at that level. When we go back to the
rooms, she always talk to me, ‘Why did I lose?
Why did I not do well?’ I think, if you want to win a medal, you have to beat the Chinese team. If you beat the Chinese, you have to be better than them. I think, during the time, we are similar. Similar, that means you can’t beat them. You have to be stronger than them. So for honest, I’m not stronger than them. I just, during the time, get close and similar. That’s why. Difficult. Need more improved. [Simeon] Chunli after Athens Olympics, she had some issues with
her shoulder and she subsequently retired at the end of 2004. Being competitive, she
still wanted to be involved and she took on the role as New Zealand women’s coach. But in her heart, she
still believed that she could win some of the big tournaments. And I don’t think the
desire ever went away. (cars driving by) [Chunli] I’m here in the YMCA everyday. Eight o’clock in the morning and then leave here at nine o’clock evening. In the morning, we run the morning club. Yeah concentrate. Okay. After school, I do the coaching. If no coaching, I try to train myself. (Chunli practises alone) Become Olympic Champion, win a medal still is my dream, my goal. If I have a chance to go, if I have a training partner, I think I still have a chance. I believe. I left New Zealand in 2008. In 2008. I live in Australia. [Interviewer] Do you miss
training with your sister? Of course. (piano music) (ping pong ball bounces) Hi Chunli! Oh Karen! [speaks Cantonese] Are you well? [speaks Cantonese] Yes. You? [speaks Cantonese] Shall we play? [speaks Cantonese] Shall we play? [speaks Cantonese] Shall we play? OK [Karen] Chunli always have
new idea for training. And she love to try something new. She always give 100% in the training. Chunli will never give up. [Chunli] Look at my age, I think, it’s a lot more older than before. Come to New Zealand, I say, ‘Oh, maybe I challenge and play again,’ but they say, ‘Chunli! That’s too old.’ When I was 40, I win the Commonwealth gold medal, but now I’m dreaming maybe playing Olympic, I’m 57, nearly 60, but I don’t
know what happen, you know. I never been 57. Never been 60. [Simeon] Chunli’s been
playing since she was a child, four to five hours a day,
usually two sessions, two to three hours each. So she’s really a table tennis robot. She likes shopping, she likes movies and she likes table tennis. [Chunli] Next year, is Tokyo Olympics. Everything is possible. (upbeat electronic music) Oh my god.

6 thoughts on “Chunli Li, table tennis player undefeated in NZ age 57 | Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends

  1. I cried so hard an felt so encouraged when it ended. Winning Commonwealth games at the age of 40, trying for the Olympics at the age of 57. “Next year is Tokyo Olympics, Everything is possible

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