International comeback at the European Championships: Timo Boll and his fight for the Olympic dream

As of: September 7th, 2023 5:31 p.m

When it comes to European table tennis championships, his name is inextricably linked to this tournament: Timo Boll. He won a total of 20 titles in singles, doubles and team at the continental competition. But at the European Championship tournament in Malmö, Sweden from Sunday (September 10th, 2023), Germany’s long-time figurehead suddenly finds himself in a new role – and in a race against time.

He can smile again: This was evident after his individual in the Bundesliga game against Werder Bremen. Boll had just defeated his opponent 3-1 and then announced: “Dynamics are slowly coming back into the body.” He was satisfied with his game.

EM important for match practice and world rankings

Dynamic is the key word, because the record European champion is now 42 years old and is only just returning to professional sport after a shoulder injury that lasted for months. For his big goal of taking part in the Olympics again in 2024, he now needs above all match practice and world ranking points.

It’s no surprise that the veteran is leading the German team at the European Team Championships in Malmo. Together with Benedikt Duda, he should lead an otherwise rather young German team as far as possible. Germany’s other world-class players around Dang Qiu, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Patrick Franziska will have a break from tournaments in order to be able to train with a focus on the Olympics. Keyword: load control.

Boll has to catch up

Exactly these three could also become Boll’s problem regarding an Olympic nomination. Because the competition in our own country never sleeps: Ovtcharov won the last German Olympic medal in Tokyo and was already number one in the world rankings. Dang Qiu made his breakthrough last year when he was crowned individual European champion. Patrick Franziska is consistently in the top 20 in the world and is to date the only German player who has already beaten all of the current top players from China – even if he sometimes lacks consistency.

Not only are they currently ahead in terms of fitness, but also in terms of world rankings. This determines the seeding for Paris, where there are two individual starters and an additional place in the team. The injury pushed Boll down to 66th place in the rankings. He is basically forced to take part in international tournaments – and do so as successfully as possible. It is also a race against time.

Still world class fit

Nevertheless, the DTTB knows about the strengths of a fit Boll. This is what national coach Jörg Roßkopf, who will be missing from the European Championships, said: “EYou should be allowed to fight for your participation until the end.” Because Roßkopf knows exactly how much the former world number one can torture himself. And how strong he can be: At the 2021 World Cup, Boll won the bronze medal despite a hip injury in the tournament, but narrowly lost his semi-final. Even at a slightly older age, he plays Boll is in a fit state on a par with the assembled world class.

My instinct is still a bit lacking“, he told the Sportschau before the European Championships. This instinct, his anticipation and his feeling for rotation make him an opponent that no one wants to play against. This will also be the case at the European Team Championships – despite the lack of match practice Boll gets better with every training ball and every competitive game – and a good Boll is hard to beat in Europe.

“The journey is not over yet”

However, there is no obligation for him and the German team to win the title, or precisely because of the lack of practice. “We won’t have any guidelines, but there never have been. The only thing: We would like to survive the group“, explained DTTB sports director Richard Prause. What remains obvious is that a good performance is in the interest of everyone involved, including a good Timo Boll, especially in view of what may be his last Olympic Games and in view of the selection of top players at the climax next year.

The record European champion himself is at least full of hope: “I’m ready to torture myself, the Olympics motivate me extremely.” The body is doing everything again, it has invested a lot in order to be able to attack fully. Then Boll smiled again at the end of the interview: “The journey is not over yet“. It almost sounded like a promise for the European Championships.