Fast on her feet: Miao Miao, 33, table tennis player
Australia’s most successful table tennis player, Miao Miao, moved to Melbourne as a 17-year-old. She has represented her country at four Olympic Games, and is now looking to add to her tally of Commonwealth Games medals in Glasgow.
Richard Cooke Jian Fang Lay has been your doubles partner for a long time now.
Miao Miao We met for the first time in 1996, so we’ve known each other for about 17 years. We started playing together in 2002, and we’re quite good friends. To play good doubles we have to know each other’s game very well, and also how to combine our technique and tactics. Sometimes we don’t need to tell each other what we should do, we just have that feeling.
RC But then you have to play each other as well.
MM Yeah, of course. We’re tough, competitive players as well – she has her play style, and she knows my play style, too. So it just depends on the day and also on the tactics we’re using in the game. We always have to change, make variations, so it just depends on who performs well. We know each other very well so it’s a tough competition.
RC You’re famous in China, but not so well known in Australia.
MM It’s good to be famous – to have everybody pay attention to you, so you feel proud. [Although] sometimes it’s good to just focus on your own things; you don’t want people around all the time. But fame is good – it just means people know you and people like you, they want to talk with you, and you can give them your ideas or maybe experience to share with them.
RC Do you still enjoy playing?
MM Yeah, of course I like it. My dad was a professional table tennis coach in China. He was in the Chinese national team when he was young, so that’s why I got into table tennis, because of my dad.
RC Qualifying for the Chinese team might be more difficult than winning an Olympic gold medal.
MM I think there’s a million people who play table tennis in China. The competition is really huge. There’s lots of good players and not everyone can get a chance to play for China because there’s so many people but limited spots in the national team. Sometimes for the coaches it’s really hard to choose who will be in the team.
RC In your style, speed is very important?
MM Yeah. I play fast attack – that was my dad’s decision. But also I want to be different from everybody else, so that’s why I play pimples on both sides of the bat. There are only two or three players in the world who play that style. It’s a Chinese style, instead of European. My strength is really fast footwork.
RC Fast attack suits your personality.
MM Oh yeah. I like to play an attack game and also I think I’m quite fast moving around. Maybe it’s the genes from my family – my dad had really good footwork when he was a player, and also my mum is a sprinter, so I’m quick. But people say I’m only fast when I play table tennis. When I do other things I’m pretty slow.
RC Your dad has been your coach for your whole life.
MM You have to trust a coach. I know sometimes it’s hard because I’m the daughter and he’s my dad, and sometimes I have a different opinion, and then I have to ask, “Why do I have to do this?”, and we have a long discussion. Then in the end, okay, I have to accept his opinion, because he gives me examples.
RC Table tennis players can have very long careers.
MM There are no professional players in Australia – most people play for fun, we’re not professional. We’re prepared for the competitions but we still have to do other work as well. Like I’m doing coaching and I’m doing some other work. Jian Fang Lay has two kids and has to look after her family. Basically I’ll just keep going, if we still can play, if we’re still in the top level or top ranking in Australia or Oceania, if we’re still competitive against the world level, then we’ll just keep going.
RC That must take a lot of sacrifices.
MM Yeah, pretty much. I’m okay because I think that’s life. In China or some other countries they do full-time training – there’s not much of anything else: just training, competing, training, competing, and resting. And eating, sleeping, that’s it. But in Australia it’s a little bit different, it’s still like working, training and a few other things. Maybe sometimes we also take a break one day a week, or sometimes I go out with friends. You have to balance your life.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 3, 2014 as "Fast on her feet". Subscribe here.