A whirlwind tour before London
Right after I made the Olympic team in May, I got the chance to play a few rounds of table tennis with my good friends, "Uncle" Warren and "Uncle" Bill. You may know them if I include their last names: Buffett and Gates! It was part of the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, and I've now been invited three times by Uncle Warren to entertain everyone by playing him, other shareholders and the shareholders' kids. Each time has been a blast and since a lot of his guests don't know who I am, he always asks them to challenge me to a game. One time he even offered a See's Candies box to whoever could beat me. No one ever won that box.
My favorite part this year was playing against him and Uncle Bill in front of a huge crowd. I was really excited to see them and so was the audience. At one point, Uncle Warren whipped out this really large paddle to help him score a few points -- though it didn't work. We shared a few good rallies and laughs.
When I got back home to San Jose, Calif., things were starting to calm down a bit. Then I learned the 2012 North American Cup in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, is the same weekend as my SATs. I just finished my junior year of high school, and we all know how important that test is! Though I have been studying for my SATs forever, I really wanted to defend my 2011 title. I made the tough call to just take the SATs in the fall. I better not miss them next time.
I think I made the right choice, though, since I won the title again. It was somewhat of a surprise, considering how terribly I played during some of the tournament -- I became too intense and really nervous. At one point, during the finals against Canada's Zhang Mo (my biggest opponent last year, too), my coach had to pull me aside and say, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, but you have to try; you can't keep immediately missing the ball."
I told myself to calm down and play like I normally do, and it ended up being a turning point for me. I was able to come back and win, and it taught me how to deal with a difficult situation and pull through even when I'm not at my best. Winning the North American Cup was a huge confidence booster. It also earned me a ticket to the Women's World Cup in Huangshi, China, Sept. 21 to 23, which is really exciting.
But before I could digest the victory, I was already on a plane to South America to play at the Brazil Open, where I was one of the top 16 players on my first professional tour. It was nerve-wracking to play without qualifying matches, which are such a nice warm-up in most tournaments. The last thing I wanted to do was lose my first match and then come home! I managed to make it to the finals where I was up against my teammate and friend Lily Zhang. It wasn't easy, but I won the under-21 division, so that was pretty nice.
From there, I made a pit stop at home before heading to Grand Rapids, Mich. for the U.S. Open. I went into the tournament thinking of it as my last big practice session before the Olympics, which is why I'm OK with losing to Huijing Wang in the semifinals. There was also the first U.S. Junior Circuit, which was held in conjunction with the U.S. Open. I won gold in the junior girl's singles, doubles and team. It was the first time I won a World Junior Circuit title!
All this traveling back and forth has hopefully prepared me for the biggest tournament I've got coming up: I'm heading to London in just a few days! Now all I have to do is finish up summer school (I'm taking a pre-calculus class so I don't have to take it in the fall) and pack. The main thing I'm bringing? Food, and lots of it. I'm sure the dining hall at the Olympic Village will be great, but I never travel without instant noodles, chips, cookies and chocolate. I'm not kidding!
I'll also bring a special little small box containing the piece of paper that says, "My goal is to become an Olympic champion one day." I wrote it when I was 8, and for years I didn't dare to open it because I was scared I'd jinx my dreams. Well, now I'll have that open box and note with me in London as I try to make those dreams come true.
Table tennis is one of only three sports in which the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal. (The other two are handball and badminton). I'm on a mission to change that in 2012 or 2016. If I can't do it, I want to coach the next generation to that medal. We're going to get it sooner or later, so maybe London is the right time!