The Paly Voice

Where are they now: Lily Zhang

Chloe Fishman and Jeanette Wong

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Lily Zhang poses for a selfie with her bronze medal from the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Photo by Lily Zhang.

Lily Zhang poses for a selfie with her bronze medal from the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Photo by Lily Zhang.

Making Olympic history for the United States is not something a typical 18-year-old can check off her bucket list.

Neither is being named “Athlete of the Month” for a sport by Team USA.

Recent Palo Alto High School alumna Lily Zhang has accomplished both of these things and more. Not only is she the first (and only) American to have competed at the Olympic Games prior to the Youth Olympic Games, but Zhang is also the first to win a table tennis medal at the Olympic level for the U.S. She secured a bronze medal in women’s singles table tennis last month at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. After a victorious trip overseas, Zhang returned to the Bay Area to pursue her college education at University of California, Berkeley.

The Paly Voice caught up with Zhang to learn more about her experiences as a professional athlete.

The Paly Voice: When and why did you start playing table tennis?

Lily Zhang: I started playing at the age of seven when my friend took me to the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club.

TPV: What has been your favorite part about playing?

LZ: There’s so much that drew me to table tennis. I love the rapidity of the game, the vast amount of different strategies and styles, the mental aspect of the sport and I especially love traveling for tournaments and learning about the various cultures of the world.

TPV: What are your hopes or expectations of the table tennis program at UC Berkeley?

LZ: I know that UC Berkeley has one of the best table tennis teams in the nation and I already know many of the players on the team, so I’m extremely excited to join the team. I also hope to help the team win gold at the College Nationals next semester.

TPV: How do you think the demands of a college student will affect your training?

LZ: It’s definitely much harder to practice here because of the demands of college, but I’m going to try to push myself to practice as much as I can on the weekends, as well as go home to my club on some weekends to practice.

TPV: How has your experience at the Youth Olympic Games helped you as a professional athlete?

LZ: Participating in the Youth Olympic Games has given me so much experience I can take with me to future tournaments or events. I think my mental game improved significantly after the Games, as I was able to calm myself down and breathe deeply whenever I got too nervous there.

TPV: What’s the most helpful advice your coach or anyone has ever given you?

LZ: l think the most helpful advice I received was from my parents. Unlike many other parents in this sport, my parents never, ever pushed me to play table tennis and always gave me the choice to pursue what I wanted. In doing so, they helped me realize that I play because I truly love the sport, not because I was pushed or forced to.

TPV: Do you have any advice for current Paly athletes?

LZ: I guess my advice to current Paly athletes would be something along the same lines: Pursue something you’re really passionate about because you will work hard to achieve your goals, but at the same time, really enjoy doing it.

TPV: What are the next steps in your table tennis career?

LZ: I’m still trying to work it out with my professors, but I’m hoping to attend the 2014 World Junior Championships in Shanghai, China. It’ll be my seventh time playing World Juniors, and my goal is to win the first ever medal for the U.S. there.

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