By Philip O’Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s 50-year-old former Olympic table tennis champion Jan-Ove Waldner played his final competitive game on Thursday to end a glittering career in which he won a slew of world and European titles and became a household name in Asia.
A career spent traversing the globe and beating the best players in his sport ended with a modest league match for his club Sparvagen against BK Rekord in Stockholm.
In his final outing — more than 38 years after he made his debut in elite Swedish table tennis as a 12-year-old — Waldner won one singles match and lost another before being heralded for his achievements by the Stockholm crowd.
“Fantastic. I don’t think anyone cares about the result,” he told reporters following his final game before explaining why he was hanging up his bat.
“I felt at the start of the season that enough was enough,” he told state broadcaster Sveriges Radio. “It was getting to be tough with my back and stuff. I want to be able to play golf with no problems.”
Waldner won a number of Swedish and European titles, but is best known for his Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992 and his decades-long struggle against the best players from table tennis-obsessed China.
Revered for his speed, his swift serve and his incredible control, he earned the nickname “Evergreen Tree” in Mandarin as he faced generation after generation of elite Chinese players with his powers seemingly undimmed by time.
He announced his arrival in 1982 when he lost the European championship singles final to fellow Swede Mikael Applegren, but he would overcome that disappointment and go on to win 11 European titles of his own.
Having won the world singles title in 1989, he clinched Olympic gold three years later and snared a silver at the Sydney Games in 2000.
His Olympic career ended in disappointment, however, when he lost the bronze medal match in 2004 in Athens to China’s Wang Liqin.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; editing by Toby Davis)