Serving some serious table tennis game.
For many of us, it’s a fun way to pass the time with friends but for others — it’s a path to Olympic glory. To make it, North American players have to survive a tournament this weekend.
The BMO Harris Bank Center is set to host Rockford’s first-ever Olympic trials. The Rockford Area Convention And Visitors Bureau says it’s been working to bring higher profile sports tourism events to the Forest City.
“We can leverage that success for future arena partnerships opportunities, other future Olympic trial events,” said RACVB Director of Sports Development Nick Povalitis. “Of course, we’re looking at college national championship still and some professional events, as well.”
Team USA and Team Canada will face off to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Players say the Forest City is an ideal location for the trials.
“The mood is more calm, everything is more laid back,” said Canada men’s table tennis team player Jeremy Hazin. “If you’re in a big city, you’re tempted to do other stuff and not relax. I think Rockford is a good place to have it.”
Hazin is hoping to make it to his first Olympics.
“At the moment, we have a decent team,” said Hazin. “But at the moment, they’re stronger than us. But we are here to win, to try our best, and hopefully pull out a win here.”
Although United States women’s table tennis Lily Zhang played in London and Rio, she says trials are more nerve-wracking than the main event.
“It is everything you worked for and it’s to go to the Olympics,” said Zhang. “It’s like the biggest honor in the world and kind of a once in a lifetime experience.”
Once the event is over, players look forward to being tourists.
“If we have a day, or some time, to really go out explore the city, try new things, meet new people,” said Zhang. “Yeah, hopefully we’ll have that time to do that in Rockford.”
The RACVB says it’s in it to spin it and hopes to have Rockford’s support this weekend.
“We want to deliver a great experience for the Federation, for the athletes that come through here,” said Povalitis. “They will literally witness the highest level of table tennis that you can witness anywhere in the world.”
To celebrate the historic sports tourism milestone, a free pregame street festival will be held downtown before the matches.
Gates open at 11 a.m. on Main Street between Mulberry and Elm Streets, the ceremonial ping pong ball drop is at 2 p.m., and rally to Rockford’s first-ever Olympic Trials at 3 p.m. here will be food and beverages from local vendors and restaurants, a live DJ, bouncy houses, street hockey and recreational table tennis for all ages.