In celebration of London 2012, Left Foot Forward will be running a series of profile features on Olympic heroines past and present, and potential female stars of the future. London 2012 is the first year that all teams have a female competitor yet women are still severely under-represented in sport, especially when it comes to coverage and sponsorship. The success of female athletes in this year’s Olympics needs to trigger cultural change.
Yaping Deng – a 4′ 11″ woman from China – has more titles in table tennis than any other athlete; with four Olympic gold medals and 18 world championship wins:
Deng started playing table tennis at the age of five, winning her first national tournament at the age of 13.
Initially she was denied a place on the national team due to her small stature, but this was overruled after her talent became undeniable.
Her first Olympic Games were in 1992, where she won Gold in both singles and doubles table tennis tournaments. She repeated this feat in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Deng retired at 24 and went on to study for a Masters at University of Nottingham and then a PhD at University of Cambridge. She married fellow table tennis player Lin Zhigang.
The BBC reported on her stint at University of Nottingham:
So what brought her to the University of Nottingham? She was offered a scholarship to study at the Centre for English Language Education while at the prestigious Qinghua University in Beijing.
Her English has improved leaps and bounds as she moves around the university, helps with coaching of the English national table tennis team, and travels to events and conferences around the world.
She plans to return to Qinghua University in the spring to finish her English degree there. She says she has enjoyed her time in the city enormously and hopes to return to the University of Nottingham for further study.
Deng told an interviewer in 2003:
“In fact, there is no real secret to my success… I owe it to my belief in thoroughness, which made me a world champion.”