Aruna … Nigeria’s ping pong poster boy earns his stripes
It is not often that one comes across a local lad determined to make the best use of the few opportunities available to rewrite his story. It is even more difficult to see a poor boy from a chaotic beginning brave all odds to climb to the highest level in his chosen profession.
However, the world has, in recent times, been served such fantastic “dishes” as Elon Musk, Rihanna, Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Joshua, Tony Elumelu, Goodluck Jonathan and Mary J. Blige. These are men and women, who recognised the circumstances of their birth and set out, through hard work, to change their story.
Last Tuesday, the world was once again reminded, through Nigerian table tennis star, Quadri Aruna, that moving from obscurity to the table of kings requires just an uncommon determination and focus on whatever genuine elevating task one is engaged in.
Since debuting at the highest level of table tennis at the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Oyo State-born Aruna has been turning heads with stunning performances in a game usually dominated by China and other Asian countries.
In Africa, Aruna has always set the pace, including being the first player from the continent to reach the quarterfinal of the Olympic Games and World Championships, as well as the only African to make it to the semifinal of the WTT Star Contender.
Last week, he crowned his endeavour with becoming the first African to break into the top 10 list in the world ranking.
Now 33, Aruna is still not satisfied with just being among the world’s best. He wants to become the world’s best.
Born on August 9, 1988, Aruna, who attended Oba Adeyemi High School, Oyo State, represented the school, Oyo East Local Government Area and Oyo State at various table tennis competitions before hitting limelight at the international arena.
He first competed for Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and later at the World Cup 2014, where he got to the quarterfinals in the men’s singles and was ranked number 30 in world table tennis. The same year, he was named the star player of the year by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). Aruna was also part of the Nigerian team that won bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
But the first inkling the world had that Aruna was made of special stuff was at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he stunned the table tennis world with a run up to the semifinals of the men’s singles.
On his way to the last four in Rio, Aruna, who credits former Nigeria Table Tennis Federation President, Wahid Enitan Oshodi, for changing the course of his career, upset, among others, the then world number five seed, a semifinalist in the previous Olympics and four-time World Tour champion, as well as a 10-time runner up. He also defeated European legend, Boll, before eventually falling to the superior tactics of the eventual gold medallist, Ma Long. In Rio, like in several other competitions, Aruna was the only African competitor to reach the fourth round in the event.
In the latest ranking released by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) last Tuesday, which was based on the performances of athletes in its fold around the world for a given period, Aruna led the pack of athletes from Africa and was named number 10 in the world.
His fiercest rival in the continent, who is also one of his closest friends in the game, Omar Assar, also benefitted from the rankings, as he moved to number 18 in the men’s singles ranking.
The ITTF Executive Committee, which approved the latest proposition formulated by the World Ranking Working Group (WRWG), is basically a composition of the sum of the points of the best eight results achieved in the last 12 months. It is an objective merit-based method used for entries and seeding at ITTF and World Table Tennis (WTT) events.
In the 2017 ITTF World Challenge Bulgaria Open, Aruna advanced to the semifinals, where eventual the winner beat him in a tight match.
At club level, Aruna teamed up with club, TTC RhönSprudel Maberzell Fulda, a top club in the German Bundesliga Table Tennis, to hone his nest for greater glory in the sport.
Speaking on his latest status, an elated Aruna said his top 10 ranking is another chapter in his life, adding that it is possible for him to move higher in the ladder of the ITTF ranking by putting in more effort.
“I feel so happy, really excited. For me, it is another big challenge and with the support I have been getting all over the world, it seems it is very possible to even go further, so I feel really challenged. Similarly, I am very happy and excited and I am looking forward to the future,” he said.
He acknowledged that getting to the top is not an easy task, adding, however, that he never expected it to be easy.
“It has been a difficult journey so far to the top. Several hours of travelling, several sleepless nights, several hours of hard work and several times of getting injured, several times of getting defeated and of course, several positive winnings. In the end, I can say I am very happy and satisfied. I am fulfilled, but of course, everything is still possible if I am able to continue the same way, it is very possible to go even much further.
“I work so hard, I travel a lot, I invested my time, my money, I invested so much going everywhere around the world, playing tournaments and on several occasions, playing alone. I have had to do with a lot of sacrifices. I was never intimidated playing against opponents that has a coach. I was just always focused and I kept believing in myself and finally the hard work has actually paid off,” he added.
True to his insatiable quest for glory, Aruna said he would continue working hard until he becomes the reference point in table tennis.
“The next thing is to keep working harder and keep believing in myself. You know, nothing will actually change; the process will always be almost the same. We practice, we sleep, we rest, we travel, we play tournaments, we are under pressure, we lose, and we win.
“One thing is for me to believe in myself and never quit. So, if I am able to keep working harder, I know there will be bad moments, there will be injuries and sometimes, there will be good moments. I hope I can keep going and I pray I have less injuries in the nearest future so that I can actually achieve a better results,” he stated.