Every table tennis player has a Memorable and Unforgettable Childhood. Ma Long is the same. Today, I present the trip of Ma Long comeback to his hometown. He quit his hometown at the age of 11. The documentary is made by New York Times Travel Magazine, translated by MaLong Family Club.
Ma Long’s childhood
Ma Long spent his childhood (his first 11 years) in Anshan. It’s a famous tough northern industrial city and not much memory seemed to last. He then went to Shenyang, more than 100 km away; a few years later, he went to Beijing. He counted the time he spent out of his hometown and found it way more than the time he spent in hometown.
Ma Long won his first trophy of table tennis in the city of Anshan. Maybe in 1995 or 1996, he did not remember the exact time. Anyways, it was within 2-3 years since he first picked up the racket. This is a typical him, who remembers clearly the matches that he lost but not those that he won. It is known that Ma Long does not want to lose any match; the concept of win and loss was established when he was in Anshan.
The coach asked him to chole a lot when playing, to frighten the opponent and to cheer himself up.
“I did not feel like chole-ing or shouting. The coach forced me to chole and I did very reluctantly.”, Ma Long said.
He got 3 champions in Anshan in total. He recalled that one tournament was held in the stadium of the city sports school where he did his training. Besides the golden medal, he won 300 CNY in prize money. His father treated his coaches and teammates to dinner. “In a restaurant over there”, we drove past the street where the city sports school used to be and Ma Long leaned onto the window, trying hard to look for the restaurant. The street name remains the same but the street view is totally different from his memory 20 years ago.
The prize money of 300 CNY was all spent on the dinner. Did you feel disappointed? “Yes.”
Then how did you plan to spend that 300 CNY? “I did not know how to spend money at that time, not to mention a big money of 300 CNY.” He smiled shyly.
The life of 7-or-8-year-old Ma Long was boringly simple
The journalist shared my impression of Northeast China and Anshan with him,
“every person in Northeast China knows how to hit people in a fight…” “I never hit people; I only hit balls.”
Ma Long was training very hard. But at a young age, he still lost many matches to his teammates.
Here is the photo of Ma Long in 2002. He only gets the Bronze medal.
Ma Long training at a young age
Ma Long was sent to learn table tennis by his father at the age of 5.
During the 6-7 years before he left Anshan at the age of 11, he had been to 3 primary schools, Gangdu Primary School on Zhonghua South Road in Center City, Shannan Primary School close to his home, and the other one in the suburb. The reason of changing primary schools was that the place of table tennis training had changed. His childhood was full of table tennis, regular school in the morning and table tennis training in the afternoon.
In Anshan, the sunset time gets early and early after late September. When he finished training around 5-6 pm, it was dark outside. If his parents had time after work, they would go and pick him up; otherwise, he took the bus to go home by himself, for up to 40-min on the long route. It was freezing in the winter and one had to cover every part of the body except eyes to stay warm. “I wore my scarf to here (underneath the eyes)”, he showed us how to cover the whole face.
Ma Long memory in his childhood
He also told us some naughty stories. Ma Long caught a fly and put it onto a spider web; he climbed onto the willow tree outside the sports school and used the branch as a horizontal bar; and found a bag of unknown clear liquid behind the door of restroom at school and poured it into a plastic bag, as he walked the liquid spilled and burned his clothes – it was sulfuric acid. This is all our first Full Grand Slam winner did “out of line” in Anshan during his childhood.
As we were driving to the Memorial Hill Park, memory of this city came back to Ma Long little by little.
The Memorial Hill Park is on the north-south central axis of Anshan. Standing on the top of the Memorial Hill, we could see half of the city, covered with green trees and rows of old and new houses. It was Saturday morning and the park was not filled with people. On the playground down the stairs were a group of teenagers in sports jerseys, warming up, stretching and running, as young as the rising sun.
“Look, the world’s greatest stretch.” They caught Ma Long’s attention. He was still in the car and kept watching them. “The world’s greatest stretch” was what he called that stretching movement, very exaggeratedly yet seriously.
The Memorial Hill was so familiar to Ma Long. The sports school at which he once trained was not far away from his home. His routine was home, primary school, sports school and the Memorial Hill. That was his own after-school exercise. He ran up and down the hill twice, then enjoyed the view and cooled down on the hilltop before returning home. And some sweeter memory?
After he won matches, his father brought him to a night market next to the Memorial Hill and treated him with lamb kebabs. Back then, the price was 3 screwers for 1 CNY and 10 screwers (a.k.a 1 handful) for 3 CNY. Every time Ma Long was able to eat 1 handful.
Was your father happy at your victories?
“Of course. If he was unhappy at my victories, was he my father at all?”
How did he express his happiness? “He did not express much. We are alike and good at controlling emotions.”
Then how do you know he was happy? “I can read his mind.”
Many said he is different from the stereotype of Northeast China. According to his analysis, he lacks the attitude of living cozy as other Anshan people. People of Northeast China used to be enterprising; however the location and historic reasons made Anshan like a state firm. People work and live together, at more or less the same status. No one is willing to move forward or change. Ma Long is different. He chose table tennis, which determined that he had to be on his own.
“As an athlete, no matter how the coaches or others help you, when you stand on the court, you are alone.
For the one-on-one match, you have to count on yourself. Surely coaches are also crucial, but when you play the real match, the coaches cannot help you.”
Difficult early life of Ma Long as many top Chinese players
He had a little homesick after he got to Shenyang at the age of 11, especially when his teammates had their parents visit them or his teammates left Shenyang for other places. “The life is one choice after another, all kinds of choices. There have been so many crossroads. At that time, making right choices were more important than working hard.”
Are you a person who makes choices proactively or…?
“Passively.” His answer was as quick as his chop block.
“I have ‘allodoxaphobia’. It’s hard for me to make choices as I keep hesitating. I also hesitate when I play table tennis; but I am forced to make a choice standing there at the very moment. I have to make a choice.”
Epilogue: Later I had lamb kebabs with him. We order two handfuls. He was so happy. I don’t know how to describe it, so happy.
He also mentioned that he was asked to write training diary since young. At the beginning, it was just a record of training routines. Gradually it became a way that he talks to himself. He usually types the training diary on the computer and makes sure no errors or typos before he hand-writes on the diary book. “Writing is a serious thing, isn’t it?”
Anshan hometown of Ma Long
We went downhill from another trail and shot the breeze. He suddenly asked where was the civil table tennis court that we found during the recce the day before. I answered, just down the hill. Should we go? The crew was hesitating as he finally had a break in hometown, was he sure about playing some table tennis? He did not say yes or no but went in that direction.
Anshan has a great atmosphere of sports, especially table tennis. In a park located in the most central spot of the city, there is a big court with 50 table tennis tables. People including seniors and juniors were playing.
“Many great players were born in Anshan.” Ma Long introduced, “Anshan is most famous for Qian Mountain, steel and table tennis champions!” His arrival caused a stir in the court. Seniors talked to each other with Anshan accent, “We have been watching Ma Long play since he was a kid.”
We invited two twin boys to play a game with Ma Long. Ma Long borrowed a racket from a senior who was playing on the next table. One boy was shy and the other was aggressive to attack and made some tough placements. Ma Long played around with them, gently. Later we learned that the twin boys started to play table tennis a week ago. They are 11, the age when Ma Long left Anshan.
(Note: Anshan is renowned as China’s capital of iron and steel. Besides Ma Long, Li Xiaoxia, Guo Yue, Zhang Chao, Chang Chenchen are all Anshan-born table tennis world champions. Ma Long’s 300 CNY prize money was huge to him when 3 CNY was good for 10 screwers of lamb kebabs.)
Ma Long personal life
|Birth Date||Oct. 20, 1988 (age 29)|
He started to learn how to play table tennis at the age of 5. Eight years after, Ma Long was scouted and was brought to Beijing to have a more formal and advanced training. In 2003, Ma Long entered into the Chinese National Team.
Ma Long was seen with great potential by the coaching staff right from the beginning and his first world Singles title came in 2004 after winning the World Junior Championships. At age 18, Ma Long also became the youngest world champion after taking part in the 2006 World Team Championships.
Probably one of the few persons who knows Ma Long very well would be. The coach has been taking care of Ma Long long enough for him to witness the development in his career and personality as well. Generally, Qin Zhijian sees Ma Long as a person with childlike personalities.
Ma Long is a silent, and shy person
The first impression on Ma Long is usually a silent person. Even after winning a certain match, Ma Long’s words are usually minimal and inexpressive despite the rush and excitement. Aside from being silent, Ma Long is also a very shy person. He would easily blush and get embarrassed whenever he is being teased by his teammates and the coaches.
Just like most of the kids, Ma Long would cry whenever he losses in the game when he was still young. He would chase his opponent holding his racket and will force to continue the game so that he will have his chance to win. In addition, Ma Long also had a hard time managing his frustrations outside the arena. He would occasionally smash the mouse when playing the computer if the Internet ran too slow or there is a sudden loss of power.
Despite that, Ma Long did not grow up angry and has managed his disappointments in a more matured manner. As of now, Ma Long uses his frustrations as his motivating factors. In addition, Ma Long already has the courage to face anyone after losing a game.
Ma Long’s education
Ma Long graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Antai College of Economics and Management. His thesis is about “marketing strategy of China Table Tennis Super League”.
Ma Long daily’s life
Meanwhile, Ma Long also doesn’t want to be alone. “I do not like living alone. I want to have a companion in the quarters. At night, I usually sleep early. He can watch TV and its okay if he sleeps late but the sound of the TV should not be too loud.” Ma Long said.
In addition, communication is a challenge for Ma Long. “I am not good in communication but coach Qin is. Now, we can eat and drink just like friends. Sometimes, we do not talk about table tennis. We felt a lot closer recently and I can now vent out to him naturally.” Ma Long said.
Ma Long best teammate
Maybe the best teammate of Ma Long is Zhang Jike.
Ma Long and Ding Ning are also great friends. They play together in the Beijing Team.
Ma Long’s family life
Captain Long’s girlfriend (now his wife) is Xiao Lu.
They have a little child this year 2018.
Congratulation Captain Long! Be strong!
With that inner child in him, Ma Long shows interest in playing with children. In China, there are many public service activities that are being arranged for athletes to interact with young students. Every time, Ma Long among other players will actively participate in the event and play with the children happy. When Qin Zhijian’s family visited Beijing recently, Ma Long particularly liked to play with his master’s son and usually boasted the child as “very cute.”