This article was first written for and published by the Roar.
or most people, a global pandemic means it is really hard to predict what the future will hold. But after her recent selection to represent Australia in table tennis at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, Stephanie Sang knows exactly where she wants to be in one year.
Some 13 years after making her Olympic debut, at Beijing in 2008, Sang hopes to be in Tokyo with her two children.
“I want them to come with me and go to the Opening Ceremony and see mum walking out from the gates,” says Sang.
“I feel like it would be a great experience for them. Imagine if it could inspire them to aspire to go to the Olympic Games to represent Australia one day too.”
You might call Sang a veteran in the sport of table tennis. She first started playing when she was six years old and when she was 15 years old, moved to Australia to study.
After becoming an Australian citizen in 2006 and making the decision to represent her new home, it took Sang just one year to become the nation’s top-ranked table tennis player.
Since then Sang has worn the green and gold at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, the Beijing Olympics – which was particularly special given it was her country of birth – and sadly decided to pull out of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Dehli due to safety concerns.
After that, Sang decided to turn her focus toward other important projects – raising two children and starting her own business.
But last year, Sang made the decision to return to her sport.
“I had my first child in 2011 and then my second child in 2013. Now my kids are a little bit older and my businesses are on track, so it’s a good opportunity to come back,” she says.
But for Sang, the key driver behind her return are her kids, who have now also started playing too.
“Rather than telling my kids about the importance of training, I can show them. I can be alongside them and I want to show them how to set goals and how to fight for those goals,” says Sang.
“I want to take them to the Olympic Games. I want them to see the Olympic Games and see what they are capable of achieving.”
Both Sang and her husband are professional players but, surprisingly, they weren’t keen on extending the game into another generation.
“It is very hard to teach your own children. It’s the worst thing ever. We didn’t want them to play,” says Sang.
“But my mum reminded me that not many families can give their kids an environment where they can play a sport that both their parents compete in at the elite level.
“After that we encouraged them and they have really enjoyed playing since then.”
Sang hopes to be there for her children though, particularly if they decide to go to the next level, and remind them of the hard work that goes into being an elite athlete. She is no stranger to this effort, given she began training with a full-time load from age ten.
“I loved playing table tennis at the start, but that can be tested when you are training eight hours a day, seven days a week and have only two days off a year,” says Sang.
“I appreciate my parents pushing me and encouraging me. It was that support that has made me the athlete that I am today.”
Years out of competing might prove a disadvantage in some sports, but for Sang, her time away has taught her a lot about resilience.
“I am stronger mentally. My time away from the sport gave me the chance to look at table tennis as an outsider and it has given me better perspective,” says Sang.
“I am able to settle myself down when I am losing a couple of sets during a game, having kids has taught me so much about balance and not sweating the small stuff.”