Table tennis has taken Pierre-Luc Hinse on quite a journey – from his father’s basement in Canada to YouTube fame and now to the Olympics.
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Hinse earned a spot in this summer’s London Games by defeating American Timothy Wang in seven games Saturday in the final of the second men’s qualifying tournament at the North American trials. Hinse will join Canadian teammate Andre Ho in London.
”I’ve been working so hard for this, and there was much tension lately, too,” Hinse said. ”Finally, I’ve reached my main goal – to reach the Olympics.”
The primary source of that tension: playing a tournament final for the second straight day.
After Ho beat him in five games Friday in the first qualifier, the seven remaining men’s players were slotted into another bracket for the second event. The 24-year-old from Gatineau, Quebec, rolled through it to claim his first Olympic berth.
He was in the same situation four years ago, when he made it to the final of a qualifier before countryman Pradeeban Peter-Paul beat him and claimed a spot in the Beijing Games.
”It’s tough to come back from this. … Pressure, definitely you feel some pressure,” Hinse said. ”But it’s just so hard to feel like you have to come all the way back down again and restart the whole process, because every match is just so difficult.”
This time, Hinse won the first two games but then let Wang reel off three games in a row and take a 3-2 lead. Hinse then claimed the final two games, and after his winning point came when Wang’s return failed to strike the table, Hinse turned to the crowd and screamed in jubilation.
A few minutes later, as Hinse gave a television interview, Ho unfurled the Canadian flag as he posed on center court.
Hinse, who grew up outside Montreal, took up the game when he was 9 years old. His father bought a table for the basement and he played with his friends and brother. He bought a racket that came with a coupon for free entry to an under-10 tournament – and won it.
He became a YouTube sensation last year for a shot at the Canadian National Team Challenge in which he dived along the side of the table for a return – and his shot circumvented the net and rolled across his opponent’s side. The video had been viewed more than 140,000 times as of Saturday afternoon.
”I’ll go to a championship and players will say, `I saw your shot. It was unbelievable,”’ Hinse said with a laugh. ”It was a lucky shot – like, I’m lucky I played it and it was filmed, because many players make unbelievable shots and it’s not filmed. When I saw mine, I told my friend, `Can you put this on YouTube?”’
There was a stronger American presence in the semifinals of the second tournament than a day earlier, when 17-year-old Michael Landers was the only U.S. men’s player to win his opening match. On Day 2, Landers and fellow Americans Adam Hugh and Wang won their quarterfinal matches. Hinse, the only Canadian in the semifinals, got there because he received a bye for reaching the Event 1 final.
The remaining players are down to their last chance to make it to London, with the final Olympic spot open in each gender to be filled Sunday.
Both the men and women were divided into groups for round-robin play. Canada’s Anqi Luo and Lily Zheng of the U.S. emerged from the women’s pools later in the day and will meet Sunday morning for the final spot in London. The winner’s country also may select a third player for the team competition.
The last men’s individual qualifier must be an American because each national Olympic committee is limited to two players per gender in singles. Canada also will select a third men’s player for the team competition because it had two singles players qualify.