As the curtains come down on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the United States table tennis team returned home without a medal. Last week, the U.S. men’s table tennis team was eliminated in Round 16 after losing to Sweden, 3-1, despite a point by Indian American Kanak Jha with a four-set win, NBC Sports reported.
On July 25, California paddler Nikhil Kumar’s bid in the men’s singles table tennis ended with a defeat by Anton Kallberg of Sweden at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, according to a press release by USA Table Tennis. On July 26, a day after Kumar’s loss, Jha lost to Kirill Skachkov of Russia, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9, 0-11, 11-7, 11-4 in Round 2 of men’s singles, The Associated Press reported. Jha, currently ranked number 30 in the world, the highest rank in the United States, was the flag-bearer of the Olympic team.
This was Kumar’s maiden Olympics performance. Earlier, Kumar won two rounds to advance to the final 48 in the men’s singles table tennis event, the press release said. Kumar is the second youngest table tennis paddler from the U.S. to qualify for an Olympics, followed by compatriot 21-year-od Kanak Jha. Kumar and Jha are part of a team of six elite players — Lily Zhang, Juan Liu, Huijing Wang, and Xin Zhou.
Although the U.S. is by far the winningest country in the history of the Olympic Games, taking home 1,022 gold medals since 1896, NBC Sports reports that it hasn’t won a medal in table tennis “since it was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1988.”
Kumar, a San Jose, California resident and a left-hand attacking player, has been shining on the table tennis courts since he was 10. The paddler, who will soon be pursuing Computer Science at the University of California in Berkeley, qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games at a March 1 competition, earning first place in the trials. He also won gold at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games and secured Men’s U-21 bronze at the 2020 ITTF Portugal Open.
Jha, 21, on the other hand, was the youngest American athlete to participate in the 2016 Olympics, and the first American born in the 2000s to qualify for the Olympics. Last year, the right-hand attacking player became the first male player to win a four-peat, as he won the first game of his men’s singles final against Kumar, 11-3. He then went on to defeat Kumar in five games in the U.S. National Table Tennis Championships.
The Milpitas, California-based Jha, who trains in Germany where table tennis infrastructure is considered top-notch, also won the doubles, making it the first time he won both the singles and doubles titles. He made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, competing in both singles and doubles. He competed at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and earned a bronze medal, the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic table tennis medal for the U.S.