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April 4, 2013
National Table Tennis Star is All Business at NYU
Former USA Menís National Singles Champion in Collegiate Championships
Playing professional table tennis is a daunting experience. You train for months on end. You hit multiball for hours every day, seven days a week. Countless footwork drills. Strength training. You watch your diet. All for that shot at glory and a podium finish during the Olympics. It's just you, your opponent, a nine by five table, and millions of people watching worldwide.
But for 18-year-old former USA men's national singles champion Michael Landers, calculus is way scarier.
"The questions just sit there you know. They don't move, they don't do anything," Landers says, shaking his head. "At least when you hit the ball it might come back."
Michael Landers has played table tennis for nine years. He is one of the youngest players to win the national singles championship at 15 in 2009. He is also a freshman at New York University's Stern School of Business. And just as he's caught on to opponents' habits and tendencies on the table over the years, the Olympic hopeful is now adapting to life as a college student.
"It's definitely a lot different from the life that I've been used to," Landers admits. "Going from an online high school with minimal amount of work to like one of the top business schools in the country with tons of work has been really difficult."
But despite the increased workload, the Long Island resident is grateful for the new opportunities college brings. For years, table tennis was Landers' life. He would practice 6 to 7 hours a day and go for physical training 4 to 5 times a week.
"Before college, I was basically just focusing on table tennis. I stopped going to high school, I had to transfer to online school, and I lost a lot of my friends." Landers said. "But for the first time in a while I can actually be around people my own age and have the social life I kinda missed out on for a little bit."
Landers says one of the main differences between college and high school is that his new schoolmates at NYU have embraced, rather than scoffed at his table tennis ability.
"People here are a lot more mature and they actually respect table tennis as a sport rather than just taking it as some silly little game that shouldn't be in the Olympics," he said. "You tell them you play Olympic level table tennis and they think it's the coolest thing."
But the 2623 player turns candid at the mention of college romance.
"That kinda happened by itself you know," Landers says, grinning, referring to his current girlfriend Suzanne, whom he met at NYU. "I like to let things in life play out by themselves."
He recalls them being late for an NYU formal party this semester. Landers was playing in a tournament final that day. The ball started at seven and Landers had to leave the gym to text his girlfriend that he would be late. At eight.
"She got so mad," Landers laughs. "And when we eventually went there I couldn't dance because I was still sore from playing. We had to leave after an hour. She was the one wearing heels but I couldn't move at all."
Nevertheless, table tennis remains Landers' first love and a year of college has not covered his Timo Boll ALC with dust. Landers joined the NYU Table Tennis Team in September last year, and played a pivotal role in leading the team to its first ever NCTTA grand slam. NYU won both the coed and women's team tournaments at the Northeast Regional Championships in February this year. Landers was the men's singles champion.
"The NYU team's a great and really dedicated group of people and that's one nice thing about collegiate table tennis as opposed to just playing in regular United States tournaments," he said. "You're part of a team and I'm not only playing for myself, but for my school and my team mates and trying to represent us the best as I can."
Saajan Patel, a junior at NYU and fellow NYU table tennis team member recalls his first impressions of Landers when the latter joined the team last fall.
"I thought he might be self-centered because I've seen good players behave like that before," the 20 year old said. "But he turned out to be quite the opposite. He's a great team player, and he's always looking to give tips to other players and helping everyone else get better."
Landers hopes to do his best in both the team and singles tournaments at this year's NCTTA National Championships, held in Rockford, Illinois this April. He is currently the number one men's singles seed leading up to the competition.
"For our team, we're a relatively new group of team mates put together so I think around top eight would hopefully be the goal this year, and much higher in the future as we learn to work and get better together," he said. "For singles, I'm just gonna go all out and try to win the entire thing."
Still, Landers does not think it will be an easy path to victory, considering the number of good players playing collegiate table tennis this year.
"Everyone's a threat," Landers said. "Two of my closest friends Grant Li and Peter Li play for USC and UC Berkeley, so there should be some interesting matchups."
Ultimately, juggling college and table tennis is a delicate balancing act, and Landers says it's all about making time. Personally, he doesn't think he will ever stop playing.
"I still get to do what I love," Landers said. "And in addition to that I'm hanging out with people my own age, making friends and going to college. It's awesome."
The 2013 College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Rockford Area Convention and Visitorís Bureau and is one of the most competitive table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Menís and Womenís Singles and Doubles, and Menís/Coed Teams, Womenís Teams. The event is sponsored by Newgy Industries, Butterfly, PR etc. Rockford Table Tennis Club, Fitzgerald Equipment, Rockford Park District
Full list of participants and seeds: http://www.nctta.org/champs/2013/news.html
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the 2013 College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 12th and continues to Sunday April 14th at the Forrest Tennis Center in Rockford, Illinois.
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively for promoting the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes intercollegiate competition throughout North America. www.nctta.org
About USA Table Tennis
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States, serving 9,000+ members and nearly 300 clubs. USATT sanctions 200+ events a year including the US Open and US Nationals. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). www.usatt.org