Lily Zhang fulfilled the dream of making the Olympics at just 16 years old. She was introduced to the sport by her parents and her friends and picked up on things quickly. In 2009 she won the Canadian junior open singles tournament and by 2010 she was competing in the women’s open national championship.
Zhang brought home both an individual and a team bronze medal from the 2011 Pan American Games. Her team bronze came with Ariel Hsing and Erica Wu, both of whom are also teenagers. It was a good showing for a very young group of American table tennis players.
Palo Alto teenager Lily Zhang’s debut run in the Olympic table tennis singles tournament didn’t include an Olympic medal but she is only just beginning. Set to begin her junior year at Palo Alto High, Zhang has tons of life plans and you know that we are just starting to see what this girl can accomplish.
Lily Zhang is featured in Top Spin, a feature-length documentary film, about the sport of table tennis, by Sara Newens and Mina T. Son. The film is currently in post-production and slated to be completed in early 2013.
Imagine the smell of fresh rubber paddles, hollow plastic balls whirling by at 80 mph, and exclamations of victory interrupted by bitter cries of defeat. Welcome to the world of competitive table tennis. Top Spin explores what is at stake for teen athletes striving for the Olympics and the families who support and sacrifice for them. But with no professional future for the sport in the U.S., in addition to the pressures of rigorous training, international tournaments, schoolwork and SAT’s — is it all worth it in the end?
Asiance: How did you get into table tennis? Does anyone else in your family play?
Lily: I first began playing for fun with my parents when I was 7. Then, a friend introduced me to a local club where I started taking lessons about once a week. Nobody else in my family besides me plays competitively but my parents still love playing recreationally.
Asiance: Do you have any thoughts on what you would like to be when you grow up? 🙂
Lily: I’m not quite sure on what I want to be when I grow up but I do enjoy the subjects Biology and English.
Asiance: What clubs or extracurricular activities did you enjoy? If Asian specific, why did you choose to join?
Lily: When I was really young, I used to participate in Chinese Fan dances at my Chinese afterschool program. I really enjoyed doing it and many of my friends also participated.
Asiance: Are you looking at Colleges/Universities yet? Any idea where you would like to attend?
Lily: There are many colleges that I think I would like to attend but I especially would love to go to Stanford. I live only 5 minutes away from the school so I already know the whole campus which is so beautiful.
Asiance: What will you miss about not attending high school?
Lily: Well, I still have two years of high school left so I’ll see about that later.
Lily Zhang on her road to London 2012
Asiance: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Lily: In 5 years, I definitely see myself in college.
Asiance: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Lily: Hopefully, I’ll have a job that I love.
Asiance: Looking back, would you do anything differently?
Lily: I try to live without any regrets, and I love my life now, so I don’t think I would go back and change anything.
Asiance: Was there anything hard about being Asian at your school?
Lily: No, it’s completely normal and I feel just like everybody else.
Asiance: How was your time in London? What other events did you go to?
London was absolutely amazing! I loved everything about it and being able to meet so many talented athletes was so incredible. We watched the women’s gymnastic team finals and also men’s water polo.
Asiance: Who are you favorite Asian athletes?
Lily: I love Ding Ning from table tennis and Ye Shiwen from swimming.
Asiance: Tell us something crazy or weird that happened while you were playing table tennis during a competition.
Lily: During the Olympics, when we were playing Japan, my doubles partner hit my leg with her paddle and it went flying out of the court. It was so funny but also a little embarrassing because the entire stadium saw it and it was on live TV.
Asiance: What advice would you give to girls who want to follow in your table tennis playing footsteps?
Lily: I think the most important thing is to do what you really love. As long as table tennis is your passion, then you should continue doing it and with hard work you can get anywhere.
Asiance: What is next for you in terms of your table tennis career?
Lily: I want to continue playing for as long as I can and I really hope to play in the 2014 Junior Olympics and then the 2016 Olympics in Rio.