16-year old Wu ready for Olympics
EL MONTE, Calif. - Peter Wu walks into the Gao Jun Table Tennis Club to pick up his daughter Erica. She's nearly three hours into one of her many training sessions leading up to the 2012 Olympics.
Peter looks on and can't help but to be giddy. Just, downright giggly. He can't help it.
It's not a nervous giggle but one that borders disbelief.
Never could he have imagined that he would be the father of an Olympian.
Peter knew early on that sports were a love for his daughter, Erica, who just wrapped up her sophomore year at Westridge School, an all-girls private school in Pasadena.
Ken and Barbie were traded in for any ball that she could throw, kick, catch or shoot.
"When she was only one or two years old, entertainment for her was going outside in the backyard and throwing the ball back and forth to each other," Peter said.
Earlier this year, Erica, 16, was one of three members to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team.
"From time to time I feel it's unbelievable that Erica is really going to the Olympics," Peter said. "That kind of feeling is sometimes very unreal."
Erica played soccer and basketball growing up, but it didn't take long for fun to become just, plain lame.
"We would get trophies but the trophies were handed out to everyone, whether they lost or won," she said. "I thought that was boring after a while."
As a seven-year old, her attention turned towards table tennis after being introduced by a family friend.
It came as a shock to Peter and his wife Johan Pao, both born in Taiwan. Despite the popularity of the sport in their native country, neither of them played.
"I always joke, we pay but we don't play," Peter said.
However the parents found a club for her to join and she began taking up the sport.
It was an individual sport. The team aspect was nowhere to be found and Erica didn't like it much.
She later found success to be an easy cure. She placed second at a tournament as a nine year old. The trophy she received there was good enough to change her mind about table tennis.
"I felt like I really earned that trophy," she said. "I practiced for it and I thought that was an amazing feeling being able to practice and really earn trophies and I wanted to keep on doing it and so that was when I really got excited for the sport."
Erica wanted more and her coaches wanted more from her. Once a week training sessions gave way to training three times a week, leading to more winning.
Soon she found herself training five days a week.
Her training even took her out of the country. She trained in Taiwan for three summers and has spent the last four summers in China training everyday for six hours a day on average.
In 2010, she earned a spot on the U.S. National Team. She had her sights set on making the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but all of a sudden London in 2012 became a realistic possibility.
"I thought this is the Women's (National) Team and this is the top four or five in the country and Olympic trials is in two years and I'm thinking I still have two more years to improve, that's a really long time," Erica recalls. "I've already gotten this far; I really think I can make it in two years."
Her training intensified. She began training six days a week, juggling her training with school work. Her days usually begin at 6:30 in the morning and lasting until 1 the next morning.
She put an emphasis on physical training, knowing that she needed to get stronger.
"My skill was there, but if you don't have the physical, you can't improve that much," she said.
Earlier this year, she found herself qualifying for the 2012 North American Olympic Trials after increasing her training to seven days a week looking to earn one of the three spots on the U.S Team.
For Erica, it came down to the wire. One match. The winner would be headed to London, while the loser was four years away from trying to earn the spot in the next Olympic year.
"That pressure was really intense," Erica said. "It was a numb feeling. I was so nervous that I wasn't really nervous anymore."
After staring down her opponent, Judy Hugh, she drew confidence.
"I looked at her and I could see how nervous she was," Erica said. "That made me feel better and (I thought) 'It's OK. Both of us are really nervous and if I could only just play out, I'd have a really good chance.'"
Erica lost the first game "really badly." Peter couldn't stand to watch and left the room.
Admittedly a competitive person, Erica fought back to win 4-2, punching her ticket to the Olympics in London.
"I couldn't really believe it," she said. "For a second, I was like 'Wait, did I really make it?' I wasn't really sure for a second, than it was just a blur. Everyone was screaming and hugging and everything."
She'll compete in London in the team event, competing in one doubles match and one singles match.
She's excited about the chance to compete but away from the table, she's looking forward to the Opening Ceremonies and a chance to meet Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant.
That's a thought that gets her giddy.