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Hugh plays for 2008 Olympics
Published: Friday, January 18th, 2008
© Evan Rosen
For Princeton students, the weekend before Dean's Date is a prime time for procrastination. The University's sly scheduling of Dean's Date on a Tuesday lures students into thinking, "Well, there's always Monday." Due to this tendency, Saturday and Sunday are often filled with unproductive hours spent YouTube-ing, Facebooking and playing beirut rather than working on 20-page research papers that, in hindsight, should have been started over winter break.
While most students procastinated accordingly, junior Adam Hugh had a slightly more legitimate excuse for not focusing on his work. Last weekend, Hugh competed at Drexel University in Philadelphia in the Olympic trials for table tennis.
Hugh, who entered the trials seeded seventh, was one of 12 men competing for four spots on the national team. The team will compete at the world championships in February and at the North American Olympic qualifiers in April.
On Friday, Hugh went 1-3 after losing a seven-game match to five-time U.S. champion David Zhuang. A seasoned veteran at age 44, Zhuang went on to win the top spot in the trials and the chance to compete in his third Olympics.
Despite battling hard for the remainder of the weekend, Hugh finished in eighth place with a record of 3-8 and failed to qualify for the national team.
Hugh's performance, however, is rather remarkable considering his training in college has been practically nonexistent. Though he practiced nearly every day in high school, the academic and extra curricular challenges he has faced at Princeton have prevented him from picking up a paddle for months. This lack of practice time most likely hindered Hugh's ability to execute as well as he would have liked.
"One misconception [about table tennis] is how difficult can it be — how difficult can it be physically," Hugh said. "It's just as physically tolling as any other sport. You have to be very athletic, you have to be strong, and you have to be fit. The more you play and the better you get, the harder it is."
Though time away from the game may have hindered Hugh physically, the toll it took on his mental game — ordinarily his competitive edge — was what hurt him most this weekend.
"At the Olympic trials I lost a lot of close matches," Hugh said. "A lot of that was attributed to not being able to stay mentally focused or tough the way I used to when I was in practice and playing in a lot of competitions."
The stress of reading period loomed over Hugh as well. At night, he found himself in his hotel room trying to mentally prepare for the next day's match while struggling to finish a difficult problem set in operations research and financial engineering.
Competing on the Olympic stage is the only unfinished item left on Hugh's list of goals for his table tennis career. Since 2001, the Warren, N.J., native has won 15 championships, most recently at the 2007 U.S. Open Under 2600 tournament. He was a member of the 2004 and 2006 U.S. National Men's table tennis squad and in 2005 was named the USA Table Tennis (USATT) male athlete of the year.
Though a decade of practice and competition has helped Hugh earn these accolades, it also helps that table tennis runs in his blood. Hugh's mother, Shui-Ling "Lily" Yip, is still known in China as the "Queen of Table Tennis." After representing the United States in the Olympics in 1992 and 1996, Yip was inducted into the USATT hall of fame in December 2004. Though she stopped competing professionally several years ago, Yip serves as the vice president of the USATT and continues to coach.
Hugh's younger sister Judy is also a talented table tennis player. A freshman at Rutgers, Judy also competed this weekend at the Olympic trials, ultimately failing to qualify.
At Princeton, Hugh plays with the Princeton Table Tennis Club and led the squad to its first two appearances at the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association championships during his freshman and sophomore years. Princeton finished as the runner-up in both tournaments.
Though he didn't qualify for the Olympics, Hugh will return to playing table tennis in Dillon Gym in less than a month. Hugh intends to compete in Princeton's second regional round before Nationals in the spring.
For now, however, it's back to the books for Hugh.