August 26, 2023 2 min read 1 Comment
Photo courtesy National Senior Senior Games Association.
By Ray Glier
“Lose the point, it doesn’t matter. It’s ok. I want to protect myself.”
The sky would have fallen on Lily Yip 40 years ago if she ever said such a thing out loud about not straining to return every shot. She was a ping pong prodigy, first in China when she turned professional at 12, then in the U.S. where Yip played for the U.S. Olympic team.
She was expected to try and return every shot.
This is how it was for one of the best female players in the world: lose a match and Yip had to be scraped off the floor she was so low. Lily said she would sometimes cry after a loss when she was young.
The antidote to such a merciless culture of achievement is age, or aging. All around Yip, 60, at the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh were men and women in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s and they were playing ping pong for fun. It was infectious, she said, a salve to either growing up with a crown to be fitted on your head, like she was, or to be castigated for wasting your talent.
“I wish I understand this when I was young,” Yip said. “Relax and handle the pressure better and you perform better.”
Of course, she is not the player she once was, but Yip still had more than enough skill to win the women’s singles gold (60-64) in Pittsburgh. One thing that hasn’t changed is she can still draw a crowd to watch her play.
The crowd saw there was plenty of sweat required, even by Yip. She was challenged.
You looked around the vast convention center ballroom and every table had a serious-minded set of players. It is not a circus of all fun and Yip was just as serious as the next player. There are expectations of her, no doubt, when she comes to national events.
But there are limits and Yip understands her limits as she has gotten older. As one of the world’s best female players when she was younger, she trained and trained.
“Now, listen to your body,” Yip said. “You don’t want to over-train. And we used to eat everything when we were 20; now, balance of protein and vegetable.”
The quote from the top of this story comes from another question about how she has adjusted her game. She used to be quick to defend her opponent’s rocket shots to the corners and lunge to return them…all.
Now, a more mature Yip surrenders the point if the opponent smashes a likely winner. Lily figures she will get the next point.
It is not being timid. It is a mindset to stay away from injury.
“I don’t want to fall,” she said with a big laugh.
Yip still has a supply of competitiveness left over from her youth. When she and her mixed doubles partner were bounced out of the National Senior Games Tournament she said, “It’s ok. I understand he is weaker player, but it made him happy to play with me, so I agreed.
“But, I still didn’t like to lose.”
Lily Yip on the medal stand with her gold and with other 60-64 competitors.
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