30 July 2008 :Series on Olympic Scholarship Holders, Beijing 2008. Today: Zeina Shaban.After 14 years as a table tennis player, Zeina Shaban is about to take part in her second Olympic Games, flying the flag for Jordan. You could be forgiven for thinking that, after such a lengthy time in the game, it might be her last Olympic Games – but when the Games begin Shaban will barely be 20.
Meeting Deng Yaping
She first picked up a bat aged six, and two years later, at the Atlanta Olympic Games, she was bitten by the table tennis bug when she was introduced to the then world champion, Deng Yaping of China. “It’s the speed and the adrenalin, and the constant ups and downs in every game,” she said. “You can be winning, then you’re losing, then you’re winning again. It’s a rollercoaster, and that’s what I like about it.”
Under-14 champion aged nine
Her early results were promising, to say the least. She won Jordan’s Under-14 Championship as a nine-year-old before winning the American Open and Sweden’s Safirs Tournament for Under-10s. After that she travelled to Europe and China to improve her skills whilst competing on the ITTF World Junior Circuit, ITTF Pro Tour and at both the Liebherr World Individual Championships and World Team Championships.
Athlete of the year
By 2003, at the grand old age of 15, Shaban was a seasoned veteran. Named Jordan’s athlete of the year, ahead of footballer Mahmoud Shilbayeh among others, she was awarded the prestigious King Hussein Medal for Achievement by His Majesty King Abdullah II following her qualification for the Athens Olympic Games, where she reached the last 64. This time she hopes to go at least one stage further, but two years’ studying economics in England has placed serious demands on her time.
“Table tennis has made me who I am”
“I grew up playing table tennis, so it has become part of me,” she said. “On top of that, representing my country has always been an honour, and representing my country in the Olympic Games is an even bigger honour. Table tennis has brought me a lot of things that I’m proud of, and it has made me who I am today. It’s shaped my character in a lot of ways, and I’m sure I’ll always carry that with me.”
For the Beijing Olympic Games, Olympic Solidarity awarded a total of 1,088 scholarships to 166 National Olympic Committees in 21 individual Olympic sports.