At age 14, Oliver Friedman ’17 has already traveled all across the globe in pursuit of becoming an Olympic table tennis player. Friedman, who has played in Vienna, New York, Las Vegas and Baltimore, has won tournaments throughout the nation and ultimately plans to make the U.S. table tennis team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Friedman, who practices two hours a day, three times a week, placed second at the U.S. Open tournament for his rating group.
He was a semifinalist in a Los Angeles Table Tennis Federation tournament, competing in the A-division, which consists of the most highly ranked players in the area. He was moved up to the A-division after winning the B-division seven times.
“My greatest motivations are my losses,” Friedman said. “Since I tend to always play several rating groups higher than my own, I know that when I have frequent wins or am almost beating a proficient player, that improvement has taken place and I am getting better.”
Friedman currently has two coaches. He plays with a local coach four to five times a week, but also works with a New York-based coach.
With both coaches, the eighth grader engages in a type of rapid fire training called “multi-ball,” in which 60 to 80 balls are fired at Friedman in a minute and he returns them all. The drill aims to improve reaction time, endurance and technique.
“I am a very offensive player,” Friedman said. “I have two kinds of shots, a setup and an attack shot. My setups can be uncomfortable chops to my opponent’s weaknesses, or spin shots that force my opponent to block back slowly. My attack shots put pressure on my opponent, or they can even put the ball away. My backhand and forehand perform both of these shots.”
Friedman has been playing table tennis for six years. His interest was first sparked during a boring experience at summer camp when he turned to the sport for fun.
Upon returning from camp, he began working with a coach for the first time.
In a sport dominated in large part by Chinese and Japanese players, Friedman is most inspired by top-10 worldwide player Timo Boll, a three-time European Championship winner. In table tennis, players are rated on a scale of 0-2800, with a rating of 2500-2600 being the typical Olympic threshold.
Friedman is currently rated at 1650, but hasn’t played in many major tournaments lately, so he considers himself to be in the 1800-1900 range at this point in his career.
Ratings do not restrict matchups between players, however.
After playing for two-and-a-half years with a rating of 850, Friedman defeated a player with a rating of 1500 in the second round of the California State Open.
“[The victory] was completely unprecedented and unexpected,” Friedman said. “It boosted my confidence and ability in the coming months.
“Next summer I plan to train with the Filipino national team in Mandaluyong City. I plan to make the junior national team within two years, and after that, hopefully qualify for Rio 2016.”
He will also play in this year’s U.S. national tournament, and has already qualified for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel.