Monday 5 June 2017

Sweden's Golden Era Legend - Interview with Jorgen Persson

It was my great honour to catch up with Sweden's legend Jorgen Persson at the 2017 Liebherr ITTF World Table Tennis Championships in Dusseldorf, Germany. Jorgen has been one of the most prominent players in the sport, helping a powerful Swedish team to reach the top of the world and repel a strong Chinese movement. Hope you enjoy the interview!

For more top player interviews visit my Interviews Page.

Full Name: Jorgen Persson
Date Of Birth: April 22, 1966
Nation represented: Sweden
Highest World Ranking: 1
Jorgen Persson - Courtesy of ITTFWorld
Equipment Used?
Blade: Donic Ovtcharov Carbon
FH Rubber: Bluefire M1
BH Rubber: Bluefire M1, sometimes Acuda S1

Your Career

How long have you played table tennis for, when and how did you start?
When I was 7 years old I came to Halmstad where I started playing properly. Originally I started playing at home at 5 years old against a door. We had so many role models in Sweden at the time, the likes of Stellan Bengtsson and Kjell Johansson among others, at the time table tennis was strong in Sweden.

One of the most outstanding moments in your career was your victory at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships. What memories stand out from that event and what do you think helped you make the breakthrough to win the title?

I of course had previously had a chance to win a World Championships but lost to Waldner in the 1989 final. Usually you only get one opportunity to achieve these things and when they arise you must take them. I was very disappointed about the 89 final and so when I had another chance in 1991 I went in with confidence as I had been playing well for the whole tournament so I had to take this chance.
Another incredible feat you achieved in your career was returning to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. You placed 4th there and had some incredible results, what inspired you to compete in Beijing and to continue competing at an age where many players had retired?
I took a break from full time playing from 2005-2006, I was working at Aspire Academy as coach in Qatar. During the 2006 World Table Tennis Championships I was there watching and felt like I wasn't done just yet and I still had some competition left in me, at this time I was coaching and playing maybe 50% of the team split. I made the decision to play in Beijing. I was practicing in Beijing in 1981 at 15 years old so it was a return after 27 years.
You were a member of the Swedish team at a time when there was a fierce and very two sided battle in world table tennis between your nation and China. This must have been an exciting time, what is your best memory of competing against China in the team?

There have been many memories. Our team togethe beat China for our first time in 1989, Dortmund. We had lost to them previously, but we always believed we could beat them. The year 2000 was also a very special memory as we were the last team on the planet to beat China at a World Team Championships. I had lost easily to Liu Guoliang in the 1999 World Championships which he had won. I then had to play him in 2000 at 2-2 in the team match, it was a great feeling to produce this result. Also most people weren't really counting on Sweden to win this match in 2000, there were many fond memories.
I also have a very good memory of 1995 when we lost to China, The Championships were in Tianjin and we lost 3-2 but there was an amazing atmosphere, thousands of people watching.
Do you think the diminish of the Swedish team and therefore the start of Chinese dominance has caused problems in the popularity of the sport?
We simply had a fantastic generation and also strong previous players, it is not so easy to have players like this all together. It's no coincidence that China are so good at table tennis - its the national sport and they have history and infrastructure. They have the knowledge and resources so it's unlikely that their level will fall so much. We had to lift our game to beat them, you have to believe. The Chinese team need people to strive to beat them. Sweden before had the goal of being number 1 and we always strived towards this goal. There are more young players coming up from Japan etc and may start to believe they can win in the future. This is good for the future of the sport.

Jorgen and lifetime teammate J.O Waldner
ITTF Legends Tour 2016
 One of the great inititatives which I hope will grow is the ITTF Legend Tour including the likes of Saive, Gatien, Waldner, Rosskopf and Jiang along with yourself. How did it feel to be reunited to play with each other once again? Do you think the Legends Tour has a special role in helping promote the future of the sport?
Really fun, I hadn't seen Jiang for a long time. It was really nice to come together and share a lot of memories and development of the sport. Great for the sport, people want to see legends, playing a little slower but can still put on a good show. Would be nice to take it to different parts of the world, its a social experience too so we meet each other in a different environment.
Do you feel that there are certain things which Europe can improve in order to create more top players at the international level to compete with Asia?
It is important  to learn from the best and put it in your own way, it's not really possible to copy the Chinese. I went to China in 1981 and learned many things, but took some things away and then made it my own special way. There is lots of knowledge in Asia in the coaches, and the top players come back into the system, this is  not seen often in Europe. For the future more financial resources are needed to try and encourage former players to transition to coaching and development or to find roles where they can help the next generation.
Also because of the financial inputs in Asia coaches are able to focus on a smaller number of players, the coach:player ratio in many Asian centers is much better than in Europe and other continents.
Do you think nations have been trapped by trying to follow China in focusing on developing strong technique, therefore losing the variation which may have helped them win before and, in a sense, trying to beat them at their own game? (Accurate technique, speed and power).
We for sure need to have different styles. Now there is less spin on the ball and everything is power with use of the body, technique is important. Many players are playing full power on both sides, the game is quicker and harder to play style like full table with the forehand. Lots of styles have been phased out with rule changes like defensive players, short pimple penholders, traditional penholders and others.
Players are trying to copy China and are becoming too similar, power on both sides. Trying to play at this speed against China is very difficult there need to be other ideas and things to focus on in order to improve.

One of the most significant highlights occurring in your matches was your backhand 'swat'. How did you develop that stroke into your game, was it something you practiced or just a feeling of being the right shot?
I used to do one exercise with some forehand and then a random change to backhand and sometimes wasn't ready and ended up playing this shot. After a while I started to use it in practice and games also as I became more confident with it. I also knew in matches if I can hit this ball then I am in good form. Sometimes it even surprised me when the ball was very late and I could still hit it on.
What do you think it was that made your Swedish team during the height of your career so strong? What do you see in this era of the Swedish team and for the future?
We were very passionate and stubborn, we wanted to win in everything we did. This was shared among our team. Our matches even in practice were very intense, we hated to lose, everything was a competition even running, football games and other activities. This built the mentality which helped our team to win.
The team now needs to step up a little higher and work more on details. We have a young generation coming through and have WTTC next year at home, things are looking much better now than a few years ago.
What do you think about the current game and the balance of power and consistency?
Today many players play too hard and don't adjust so well. You have to adjust to how the incoming ball is rather than planning too far ahead. Sometimes the ball may bounce higher or lower and already the player makes a plan to play with full power and is then not able to adjust. 

Off the Topic Questions
Whos your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Roger Federer gentleman and good for sport.
Favourite food?
Dream Car
Porsche 911
Ideal holiday destination?
New Zealand or maybe Fiji
First thing you would do if you won $1million?
Buy a porsche and go to New Zealand and invest some, be smart ;)

And Lastly
Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
You cannot always win so it's important to learn when you lose, don't look backwards always look forward.


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  4. Persson has represented Sweden in every Olympic Games since table tennis was introduced into the Olympic program. Along with Croatian Zoran Primorac and Belgian Jean-Michel Saive, he is the first table tennis player to have competed at seven Olympic Games. His game is based on a powerful backhand stroke and a regular forehand.


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