Team GB Table Tennis manager Robin Ashleigh rounds-up his squad's achievements in Israel.
After many months of practice as a team, and for some individuals, four years worth of preparation since the last Maccabiah Games, the Great Britain table tennis team finally set off to compete in the 18th Jewish Olympics.
This summer’s Games were extremely well attended, with over 7000 athletes from more than 60 countries taking part, and as always, the table tennis was of a very high standard with many world-ranked and internationally renowned players fighting for the right to be crowned the best in World Jewish table tennis.
In the men’s team event, the squad of Ashley Stokes, Adam Laws, Dov Katz and Keith Lesser attracted many spectators, as their intensity on the table and rapturous support of one another gained them many followers amongst the local crowd. All the hard work on the practice table, and many miles of running off it, ensured that team GB hit the ground running with a comfortable 3-0 win over Greece and a well earned 3-1 win over a France team containing none other than former world top 50 player Olivier Marmurek.
The only defeat in the group stage came at the hands of Russia who went on to claim the gold medal. The team of Gueorgye Rubinctheine (Russian number 39 and World number 493 in November of last year), Evgeny Braynin (who only lost one match in the entire team event) and Alexsander Sherman won by a 3-1 scoreline, with crowd pleaser Dov Katz showing extremely strong resolve to beat Sherman 21-10, 21-4, 21-6, 21-9, 21-9. Ashley Stokes came agonisingly close to inflicting Rubinchteine’s only defeat of the team event, just missing out and Adam Laws fought well losing 3-1 to Braynin.
In the quarter-finals, Austria were more than worthy opponents, and GB had to work much harder than the 3-0 scoreline suggests. Ashley Stokes won a nail-biting encounter against Jair Zelmanovics 21-13, 21-8 21-10, 21-17 and Keith Lesser performed under considerable pressure to beat Raffael Johnen. Adam Laws sealed the win with an assured and comfortable win over Gerald Spennadel, setting up a semi final encounter with hot favourites Israel.
The semi-final started well with Ashley Stokes winning in straight sets against World number 989 Omri Tal. Omri Ben Ari, world number 615, just shaded it against Adam Laws -9, -3, 4, -16 to level the scores at 1-1. Dov Katz found himself in another close battle but just missed out to Israeli left-hander Nadav Rakotch before Omri Ben Ari stepped up a gear to wrap up the win for Israel, beating Ashley Stokes.
After coming so close to a place in the final, Team GB, sponsored by Howard Kennedy law firm, contested the bronze medal playoff against a strong Australian side. Guy Fainbloom (ranked in the top 20 in Australia) was too strong for both Ashley Stokes and Adam Laws, but the Aussies were left bemoaning their lack of depth after comfortable wins for Ashley over Dion Besser and Keith against Barak Mizrachi tied the scores at 2-2. In the final match, Adam Laws showed his class with a straight sets victory over Besser to claim a more than deserved bronze medal for Great Britain, the first medal won by the men’s open team in almost 30 years, excluding the intifada games of 2001.
Highlights of the individual events included a run to the quarter finals for Ashley, where he was beaten 4-1 by Israeli Omri Ben Ari, eventual runner up to Olivier Marmurek. Adam Laws won a marathon seven set thriller against Jair Zelmanovics of Austria before losing to world number 888 Israeli Niv Bogen by 4 sets to 1 in the last 32 and Dov was also involved in an epic seven setter, losing in the round of 32 to American Adam Formal. Keith beat Kazakhstan’s Roman Dokuv and progressed to the last 16 where he was beaten by Russian Alexander Ellinsin.
There was also success for the ‘masters’ team of Adam Black and Ian Mablin. The quarter-finals saw Great Britain take on a strong Scotland featuring top ranked veteran Brian Wright and Jeremy Banks. With loyalties divided amongst the British contingent the Scots squeezed through after a dogfight of a match where they took the final game 12-10 after coming back from 10-6 down.
It was the perfect warm up for the Bronze medal playoff with Black and Mablin taking the soon-to-be Silver medalists so close. But Australia’s Samuel Parasol and Raymond Rozen were a serious obstacle with Rozen making it to all three Bronze medal playoffs in the event.
The British pair dropped the first game 13-11 in a tense contest. The pressure was on for game no.2 which GB had to win to avoid the almost impossible task of coming back from two games down. Black and Mablin stepped up to take the next set 11-4 but then found themselves trailing again losing the third game 11-8. GB then came back again to draw level and took the last game in fine style working up a 6-0 lead before winning 11-7. It was the second medal on the run for the GB Masters team at the Maccabiah who showed again that they can hold their own against the World’s best Jewish opposition.
The junior team, coached and managed by Jade Blasse, also put in a strong performance. The junior boys team of Raphael Marom, Jonny Khedair and Dean Clyne finished in fourth place behind very strong teams from Germany, Israel and Russia. In the singles, Rafi lost out in five sets against the Uzbek junior who went on to win the gold. It has to be said that Rafi was extremely unlucky to have had such a tough draw and otherwise, could have had a shot at a medal.
Hannah Kingsley and Julia Josephs came up against some tough opponents in the junior girls event finishing fourth behind Israel, Russia and South Africa. The girls improved significantly over the two weeks of competition and can be very proud of their efforts.
Many competitors and managers from other nations commented on the exemplary team spirit and atmosphere created by the British team, and this team cohesion would not have been possible without the stewardship and management of Maccabi GB chairman Mel Davidson whose organisation in the lead up to the games was invaluable in the formation and preparation of the squad.
As well as some fantastic results in the playing arena, the players returning home can be extremely proud of the way in which they displayed outstanding sportsmanship and upheld the Olympic spirit throughout a truly world-class competition.