彩神通关注码在线官方Filipino 'shining girl' to pursue table tennis dream in China

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By Zheng Xin, Yuan Mengchen, Dario Agnote

MANILA, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Going from a student to a national table tennis player, 13-year-old Keith Cruz is slowly realizing her dream to become a top player, just like her idol Filipino Olympian and table tennis star Ian Lariba.

Cruz, a middle school student from Manila's Paco Citizen Academy Foundation who can barely speak Chinese, has a Chinese name: Ke Yingying, which means "shining" in Chinese. She was surprised when told about the meaning of her Chinese name.

Cruz may not be aware of it, but her performance as a table tennis player is living up to her Chinese name, thanks to her perseverance and extensive training in China.

In the Philippine table tennis national team qualifiers held in March, Cruz made it to the top-five, becoming the youngest female table tennis national player in the country's history. Because of her excellent performance, she was included in the team that will compete in the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which will be held in the Philippines later in this year.

"It is a huge surprise, and I knew she will be in the national team one day," said Lin Wencheng, the headmaster of the Paco Citizen Academy Foundation.

Lin told Xinhua that Cruz's playing skills improved tremendously after her extensive training in China.

In November of last year, Cruz and four other Philippine table tennis players were invited to the Chinese National Table Tennis Training Base in Hebei Province for a month-long training. The base is known as "the cradle of the table tennis world champions."

Cruz said she admires many Chinese table tennis star players but her only idol is Lariba.

Lariba, a Philippine table tennis Olympian who passed away in September 2018 after a battle with leukemia, carried the Philippine flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"She (Lariba) made huge progress when she trained in Beijing," Cruz said about her idol. "I want to be an Olympic athlete like Lariba but first I need to improve my skills by competing with Chinese players in China."

A tournament established by a Chinese-Filipino tycoon plays a decisive role in Cruz's trip to China.

Founded in 5005, the Uni-Orient Cup Interscholastic Table Tennis League has become a highly competitive and influential large-scale table tennis tournament, attracting thousands of Filipinos every single year.

The tournament's organizers have sponsored dozens of outstanding young Philippine table tennis players to pay a visit to China. The late Lariba was among those who participated in the tournament and then trained in China.

The League also invited experienced Chinese coaches and players to the Philippines to teach Philippine teenagers more about the sport.

It even facilitated the visit of Chinese table tennis world champion Liu Wei to the Philippines in April 2017. Liu's visit inspired many Filipino youths who aspire to become table tennis players.

Wilson Techico, the vice chairman of the Uni-Orient Travel Inc. and son of the tournament's founder Stephen Techico, hopes the cup can pave the way for more Philippine-China table tennis exchanges.

"This is of great significance to the promotion of the friendship between the two countries," he said, adding that as a Chinese-Filipino, he hoped that the Philippines and China will always be closely linked by China's "national sports."

Cruz has been to China four times to train. Cruz's father and coach, Khenneath, told Xinhua that the training not only enhanced her daughter's playing skills and stamina but also taught her "spiritual strength."

The 16th Uni-Orient Cup finals held on last Sunday, April 7 is a concrete proof of the young Cruz's solid performance as a promising player. At searing 35 degrees celsius in Manila, Cruz, along with her schoolmate, claimed the high-school event title for three consecutive years, playing ten games in a single day in a gym with no air-conditioning.

"I feel exhausted, fortunately, I stuck to the final and won," Cruz said after the tournament.

"I think I improved a lot after my training in China, and I look forward to going to China again before or after the SEA Games," she said, adding that she wants "to attend Olympic Games one day just like Lariba."

Cruz's victory last March qualifies her to train with the national athletes who will compete in the forthcoming SEA Games. "It has not yet been finalized (when will she transfer to the training camp), maybe in May or June (it will be finalized)," the elder Cruz said, adding that her daughter will still train under his wing recently.

"Soon Cruz has to shuttle between the training camp and school. They will be busy but I am optimistic the family can handle the pressure," headmaster Lin said.

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