Summer of Sport

Anna plans to turn the tables at 2022 Commonwealth Games

It’s hard to imagine, but at the tender age of 16, Welsh table tennis ace Anna Hursey is already a Commonwealth Games veteran.

When she played at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 she was just 11. Experts reckon she was probably the youngest person to have represented Wales at senior level in any sport. Anna won 3 matches in Australia, before being beaten by Malaysia’s Li Sian Alice Chang in the women’s singles.

She is still the youngest member of the Team Wales table tennis squad by some margin. The quartet of women heading for Birmingham includes Charlotte Carey, Chloe Thomas Wu Zhang, who also competed at Gold Coast 2018, and teenage debutant Lara Whitton.

Anna, whose training and participation in competitions is supported with funding made possible by National Lottery players, said, “Obviously I’d love to win a medal this time and that’s what we’re aiming for. The team is a lot stronger, but there are a lot of strong countries competing that didn’t go last time. Our main competitors are probably India, Singapore and Canada.”

Anna got her first taste of table tennis while living in Swansea with her Welsh father and Chinese mother. She was already showing signs of potential at the age of 4, despite her lack of height.

She said, “My dad used to play a bit and of course table tennis is a massive sport in China. We had a house in Swansea with a little garage and the table tennis table was in there. I was so small I had a little stool to stand on at first. I enjoyed it right from the start and I still do.”

Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother took her to China for 6 weeks to get coaching. Since then, Anna has spent a considerable amount of time (including a full year between the ages of 12 and 13) living and training in a country where an estimated 10Million people regularly play competitive table tennis.

By the time she was 7, her dad, Larry, was no longer a match for his gifted daughter. Nowadays, if they play together it’s most likely to be an exercise called multiball where one player hits a stream of balls at the other to improve their reactions.

What does she think about when she squares up to an opponent? She said, “Mostly, I’m thinking about tactics; about the way my opponent is playing and what I should do to beat her.”

And her playing style? Anna said, “I would say my reactions are pretty fast – that’s more important to my game than raw power. A lot of players are quite energetic and scream and run around. I’m more relaxed.”

One thing she isn’t relaxed about is the environment and climate change in particular. After becoming interested in the issue at school, she spoke up about the challenges of global warming and publicly vowed to reduce her carbon footprint.

She said, “Climate change is really important. My goal is to offer a younger person’s perspective because we’re the generation that’s going to be living through it. And the fact I’m involved in sport gives me an opportunity because it has such a big audience.”

During lockdown she was contacted by the US embassy who asked her to discuss sport’s role in combating climate change. In February, 2022 she was appointed as a United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework “young champion”.

Is she a fan of Greta Thunberg? She said, “Yeah, I’ve watched a lot of her speeches. I think she’s doing really well.”

Anna’s ability to juggle elite sport, school and climate activism is extraordinary. How does she fit it all in? She said, “It’s hard to get the time for everything sometimes, but I’m doing pretty well. I finish my GCSEs next week, so then I can really focus on the Commonwealth Games.”

Thanks to National Lottery players, over £40Million has gone to support the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

26th July 2022

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