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Dina Meshref hopes to strengthen the legacy of table tennis at the Paris Olympics

Dina Meshref hopes to strengthen the legacy of table tennis at the Paris Olympics
Dina Meshref hopes to strengthen the legacy of table tennis at the Paris Olympics


Table tennis runs deep in Dina Meshref's family, it is actually a rite of passage.

Both her parents, Dr. Alaa Meshref and Shereen El Alfy, were Egyptian national champions and qualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Her aunts, Nihal Meshref and Shahira El Alfy, also played, with the latter being crowned African champion in 2000, a year in which she also competed in the Sydney Olympics.

Dina's great-aunt, Ines El Darwish, was the first winner of the African Women's Singles Championship in 1962.

Grandparents, cousins, siblings, uncles, the Meshrefs and their extended clan have built a table tennis dynasty of champions for more than sixty years, but none have been as successful as 30-year-old Dina Meshref, who will be competing in her fourth Olympic Games . Playing in Paris this summer.

Meshref, ranked No. 25 in the world, has been a dominant force on the African continent, winning seven gold medals at the African Games and winning the African Cup of Nations nine times.

She was born in Montreal, where her father did a postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University, but moved to Cairo when she was two months old and has lived in Egypt ever since.

Given her family history in table tennis, it seemed inevitable that Meshref would pick up a paddle. But that wasn't necessarily the plan for her, as her parents made sure that whatever sport she played, it would be her choice.

My mother started me in tennis, not table tennis, mainly because my whole family was a table tennis family and she didn't want to force me into it, Meshref said. The national one. I played tennis for a year and I really enjoyed it.

She would occasionally accompany her father to the Al Ahly Club table tennis hall, where he was involved in running the team, and she remembers how much she enjoyed the attention she received from all the coaches, and how friendly everyone was against her. her.

The fact that players had the luxury of training indoors with air conditioning rather than sweating outside on a tennis court was an added bonus.

She started training in both sports until she had to choose one.

I was about eight years old and I remember coming back from school and they asked me, what training are you going to today, and I said table tennis. And after that I never played tennis again, she said.

Meshref considers herself naturally disciplined and obedient, which helped her take the sport seriously from an early age. She traveled with her grandfather to tournaments throughout Egypt and was motivated by the idea of ​​winning a medal. It took almost two years before she won her first.

Nearly twenty years later, Meshref's intrinsic drive comes from something deeper than silverware.

All my focus is to get the best version of me in table tennis, mentally, physically and everything. “I always feel like I have more in me,” she says.

I am always looking for the best possible training opportunities, to the extent that I value a good training opportunity more than any big competition. Because I feel like I have something inside me that I haven't been able to unlock or let go of yet. I want to push myself to the limit. And I believe that if I did that, I could achieve many good results.

In 2008, Meshref, then a young teenager, found herself at a training camp in China with two of her older compatriots who were training for the Beijing Olympics.

I felt how big it was and really wanted to make it myself one day, she recalls.

When I qualified for my first Olympic Games in London 2012, it was the best experience of my life. That feeling of those first Olympic Games is unlike anything else.

Now I'm going to my fourth Olympic Games, an event I once dreamed of. I am very grateful.

With a wealth of experience under his belt, Meshref will leave for Paris this summer to avoid past mistakes.

Maybe I started thinking way too much about the results, she looks back on her previous performances at the Games.

Especially with the Tokyo Olympics, they got postponed a whole year, so I worked that extra year more and more and I felt like because I was doing all that extra training, because I was really working hard during the pandemic, I was more focused there went to. on results.

I also had a manageable draw, so I felt like this was a great opportunity. I didn't enjoy it that much to be honest. I was influenced by different things in my environment, and it is normal that during competitions you will not find the perfect environment, and it is about how you are going to control yourself and how you would react to these things. So hopefully I can avoid these mistakes this time.

Meshref lost in the third round in Tokyo after leading her Dutch opponent Britt Eerland 3-0 in matches. On the men's side, Egypt's Omar Assar enjoyed a heroic run to the quarter-finals, where he pushed Chinese superstar and five-time Olympic gold medalist Ma Long to five matches before surrendering.

Assars' exploits have struck a chord with Meshref.

“I don't see an Olympic medal as something too far out of my reach,” she said.

I feel like it's more achievable than I thought it was at the Tokyo Olympics. Especially to see Omar reach the quarter-finals and be so close; I have the feeling that step by step we are starting to believe more that we can do that. My goal as Dina is to reach my full potential in table tennis and the results will take care of themselves.

Meshref has amply inspired Egyptian athletes. In 2018, she won gold in the women's singles at the Mediterranean Games, which remains one of her proudest moments.

As far as I know, it was the first time in history that an Egyptian or African woman won that. “I went there thinking the time had come, I went there just dreaming of a medal and when I finally got gold it was huge,” she says.

And so far I consider it one of the most important events of my career. And the final was against a Chinese-born player who had been naturalized to represent Monaco [Yang Xiaoxin]. So it was special.

Chinese players are by far the most dominant in the sport and Meshref knows she has no chance of winning a major title without finding a way to beat them.

Since I was young, maybe 10 years old, I have been going to China regularly to train. My parents wanted me to train there, so I automatically got used to their playing style. But of course their national team players are a different story, she explains.

There was a barrier that the Chinese national team players are untouchable and you can't train with them or face them.

The rebranding of the World Table Tennis tour in 2020 has revitalized the sport at the professional level and given players greater exposure to China's top talent.

We started to see them lose some games. Of course they win more often than they lose, but that barrier between us and them started to fade, according to Meshref.

And for me personally, I played a match against a former world champion [Wang Manyu in Xinxiang in 2023]; it was surprisingly close. I lost 3-2, so that was another step for me to break that barrier.

Unfortunately, this does not happen in one step. During the match I didn't really believe I could win, even though the match was only three points. But the next time I was in the same situation, I felt like I was better in that area.

Meshref's actions against Wang did not go unnoticed.

Rising Egyptian star Hana Goda found it particularly encouraging and says it has given her more confidence to step up and challenge the Chinese.

That was one of the first times an African or non-Asian did this against a Chinese player. That was an eye-opener. I thought, wow, Dina is my teammate, we're playing against each other, look what she did! Goda said in an episode of the Abtal podcast.

Goda exploded onto the scene when she rose to the top of the world cadet (under 15) rankings at the age of 12. She was crowned African Champion at the age of 15 and is currently ranked number 30 in the world (at senior level) at the age of 16.

She grew up idolizing Meshref and considers the first time she hit her to be one of the craziest moments of her career.

Last year [2022] we were roommates at every tournament we participated in together; I learned a lot from her, a lot of different things. I've learned to be a better person overall. She is a very, very good person, said Meshref's Goda.

Goda's rise has also been helpful for Meshref, who feels the teen prodigy has ignited some extra fire in her.

Hana stands out right now and will inspire a whole generation behind her, says Meshref.

This is very important, it means a lot to me. It's very healthy for us because when you're alone you don't feel motivated enough.

For years I won the African competitions in a fairly routine manner, and perhaps I lacked the urge to work harder as I won quite comfortably. But if you bring in someone from your own country, it creates healthy competition.

In a sport like ours, where we rely on rankings and competing one-on-one, these kinds of things are important. So in recent years my motivation has been very high. I can train for up to six hours without feeling tired.

Meshref's motivation remains high, but she also admits that since turning 30 earlier this year, she has started thinking about retirement.

I started to feel like, “Do I want to spend my entire childhood doing just one thing?” I'm afraid I'm missing other things. If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have told you that I don't think about retirement at all. But the thing is, I don't want to be forced to retire. I don't want to stop because I have to stop. “I want it to be my choice,” she explained.

I want to give myself the opportunity to do other things in life. Who knows, maybe I will think differently after the Olympics. But the intensity of the WTT is very stressful and tiring. So I don't know how much longer I can keep this up.

Meshref is part of an exceptional generation of Egyptian female athletes who have long excelled on the world stage. Sprint swimmer Farida Osman is also going to her fourth Olympic Games this summer and is a three-time World Championship medalist.

Hedaya Malak claimed Olympic bronze medals in taekwondo at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, while karateka Feryal Abdelaziz became Egypt's first female Olympic gold medalist when she topped the podium in kumite +61kg action in Tokyo. Not to mention the overwhelming success of players like Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar in the squash world.

It means a lot to see all these Egyptian women doing so well, Meshref said.

I believe that as women we could achieve a lot. They were hard workers, disciplined, and it shows how strong women are in our country.

Updated: June 21, 2024, 4:36 am




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