Mildenhall man takes on world’s best at ping pong
PUBLISHED: 06:44 11 January 2013
When Tony West went to support some of his friends at the ping pong world championships, little did he expect to be playing in the tournament himself.
But by a stroke of luck, he came away as one of the top players in the world, commentated live on television and ended up $2,000 richer.
The 44-year-old had failed to qualify for the World Championships of Ping Pong at the start of last month but had been persuaded by his friends to go along to the tournament to support and to help coach one of the players.
He was coaching one of the players at Alexandra Palace in London, where the tournament was held on Saturday and Sunday, when he was told one of the French players had not turned up and they needed him to play.
Mr West, who lives in Mildenhall, was told he had just three minutes to get changed and to play his first match.
Over the course of the weekend, the married NHS worker, who has five children, including two stepchildren, went on to make it through to the final 16, won $2,000 in the process and joined the Sky Sports team as one of the commentators.
He said: “When they told me, I just grabbed my kit which I had in the back of my car by some miracle and I just got changed in the middle of the hall in front of everyone as I didn’t have time to go to the changing room.
“I beat a player I’ve never beaten before in the first round and won $500 straightaway. I then went on to play the Dutch number two. “I was losing 4-0 but came back and held on to win. I was then through to the knock out stages.
“After I beat a guy from Serbia to go through to the last 16, I was jumping around and screaming all over the place and that’s when someone from Sky TV asked if I would do an interview.
“I was still jumping around and stuff when they said they loved my interview and would I like to do some commentating. I ended up commentating on the matches for the rest of the evening. It was quite incredible.”
The World Championships of Ping Pong is a relatively new, niche event in which old-style, traditonal table tennis bats are used.
All the 1950s-style sandpaper bats are provided and players must swap bats during the match to make play fair.
Mr West, who plays for the Bury St Edmunds Table Tennis Club and Ceyms in Norwich, had only ever played with that style of bat during the qualifiers on December 7 and had not picked up that kind of bat since.
His winning streak ended when he went up against a player from the Philippines who always plays with sandpaper bats, as opposed to the modern sponge bats which create more spin.
However, he ended up commentating in the Sky Sports box for the rest of the day, giving expert analysis with the other commentators. Sky Sports showed 15 hours of live coverage of the tournament over the two days on Sky Sports 2 and 4.
“I was just so lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” said Mr West, who first started to play table tennis when he was seven and is part of the Bribar Nomads who are the current British champions for the over 40s.
“It was wonderful and such an incredible experience. I got further than those who had automatically qualified. It was a phenomenal weekend. I may have won $2,000 but the experience was worth so much more.”