Get ready, sports fans. The Tokyo Olympics are just one year away.
One South Bay athlete is training around the clock to secure his spot on Team USA’s table tennis squad.
Kanak Jha of Milpitas has been playing the fast-paced sport since he was just 5 years old. Now at 19, he is the top-ranked American male table tennis player and 37th among all men worldwide. He just won his fourth national championship in a row.
“He has an extreme passion about table tennis,” Stefan Feth, Jha’s coach, said. “You have to basically kick him out of the gym.”
The game most people grew up playing in the garage is one Jha plays professionally in Germany.
“You can play the ball 10,000 times and it’s 10,000 different balls coming at you at different speeds, different spins,” he said. “You’re always adjusting, always learning more.”
While the average player might struggle to get the small white ball over the net, Jha fires shots at 50 to 60 mph at his coach’s academy in Santa Clara in a sport that is surprisingly just as mental as it is physical.
“So it’s kind of like a chess match actually,” Jha said. “You’re both trying to think what the other player is going to do and think how can I trick or kind of surprise the opponents.”
At the Rio 2016 Games, Jha, the youngest American athlete at the time, was knocked out in the preliminary round of table tennis competition. He sees Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity for redemption.
“Now I have a lot more experience under me,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of what it takes to play at the highest level. I hope that experience can carry forward for me to Tokyo.”
This post was originally posted at http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Milpitas-Table-Tennis-Star-Preparation-Tokyo-Olympics-513082071.html.