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A Sabbatical Of ‘Anything Besides Table Tennis’ Lifted Amy Wang From Her Lowest Point To The Paris Games

by A Sabbatical Of ‘Anything Besides Table Tennis’ Lifted Amy Wang From Her Lowest Point To The Paris Games

Amy Wang competes in the women's singles table tennis round of 16 during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 31, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Getty Images)

Four years later, Amy Wang is comfortable talking about her lowest point.

At the time, though, she certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Or even think about it.

The moment occurred during the 2020 Olympic qualifying process for table tennis. Wang, then 17 years old, was one game away from qualifying for the Tokyo Games. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for the New Jersey native that day.

And it didn’t get much easier the next day, or the next.

“It was definitely a hard moment to forget about,” Wang said this month, in retrospect. “At that moment, it felt like nothing had paid off in the end.”

Ultimately, Wang decided that the best thing to do for her career — and her health, more importantly — was to take some time away from the sport.

“I think I took a year off,” Wang said. “Just to settle down and just to forget about it for a while.”

What did she focus on during that year?

“Anything besides table tennis,” she said. “I focused more on school and focused on my mental health. I was at my lowest point during that time.”

Wang’s road to recovery — and a reinvigorated love of table tennis — began at home. Wang spent much of that sabbatical year with her parents and her brothers. It was, after all, the year of COVID. That meant lots of time indoors and many hours spent with her family of table tennis players (her father and brothers, in particular) and her biggest supporters, including her mother.

Gradually, Wang’s passion returned and her rise up the rankings soon followed. She won the prestigious U.S. Open Women’s Singles Championships in 2022 and then repeated as champion in 2023, capping a terrific overall season. Her lowest point felt like a distant memory in March when she qualified for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

Wang and Rachel Sung — longtime friends and roommates at UCLA — joined three-time Olympian Lily Zhang in qualifying for the U.S. women’s table tennis team in Paris.

Amy Wang competes in women's singles table tennis during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 05, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

“It’s really exciting,” said Wang, who has been playing the sport since she was 4. “It means a lot, especially competing on such an important stage at the Olympics. Throughout my career, I’ve competed internationally, but never as big as the Olympics. It’s just crazy.”

Despite her recent success, Wang acknowledges that she still occasionally battles her thoughts when training and competing. She carries an extremely heavy workload between athletics and education. In fact, don’t be surprised if Amy Wang is Dr. Amy Wang one day.

“I’m a full-time college student,” said Wang, who is studying pre-med at UCLA. “And I train 3-to-4 days a week. Prior to the Paris qualifications, I was still really stressed. Going into the trials, knowing I was the one seed and that I was expected to make the Olympics, and knowing my own expectations and others’ expectations, I was super nervous. But I managed to conquer the stress.”

Naturally, Wang has plenty of experience managing anxiety at this point. She handles the pressure by talking with her friends, family and coaches to help clear her head. And she enjoys watching movies and listening to music whenever she can.

For Wang, it’s all part of achieving a certain balance in life.

“I’ve been doing this since elementary school,” she said, “so I know how to balance my daily schedule. I manage my time pretty well — when to train, when to do my schoolwork. I’ve sacrificed a lot of my leisure time over the years to focus on table tennis.”

The process hasn’t always been easy, but the results have been impressive. Wang made her first U.S. national team at just 12 years old and now has a chance to make a name for herself on the biggest stage in sports.

And what if she won a medal in Paris? It would be the first Olympic medal in the history of U.S. table tennis.

“That would be crazy,” Wang said. “Right now it’s a far-reaching dream, but hopefully I can make it close enough to achieving a medal.”

Even more far-reaching are the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Wang lives, trains and studies.

“I just want to take it one step at a time,” Wang said. “I don’t really plan these things. What happens is what happens. If I do continue playing after the Paris Olympics, I will certainly try for LA.”

“But if not,” she said with a smile, “then I will go watch it.”

In either case, Wang is blessed to be healthy, happy and a proud ambassador for the game she loves.

“Table tennis is not a very well-known sport in America,” Wang explained. “So, as a table tennis athlete, I hope to just spread the sport more to other Americans in the US and to advocate for the sport. I’m just really honored to represent my country.”