Indian American table tennis stars Kanak Jha and Nikhil Kumar are among six elite players who will be representing the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games set to open July 23.
According to NBC Sports, many of the qualified athletes need to be re-confirmed by their national governing body and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee following the Olympic postponement to 2021.
“But there are no signs that any of their spots are in jeopardy,” it said.
Kumar and three others – Juan Liu, former Chinese national team player, Huijing Wang, and Xin Zhou – qualified for the games at a competition in 2020.
Kumar won the qualifier tournament on the men’s side, with Zhou grabbing the second spot; Liu finished first on the women’s side, ahead of second-place Wang.
The four qualifiers joined Jha and Lily Zhang, who had previously qualified. (See India-West article here: https://bit.ly/2IdoySF).
Jha and Zhang qualified for the games by merit of being the highest ranked American in their gender in the February ITTF World Rankings 2020. Jha is 25th, while Zhang is 28th.
Jha’s career-high ranking to date was 22nd in September 2019.
The Milpitas, Calif.-based table tennis player made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, competing in both singles and doubles. In the 2014 ITTF Men’s World Cup, Jha became the youngest ever to play in the world cup at age 14.
Two years later, he became the first athlete born in the 2000s to qualify for a U.S. Olympic Team.
He competed at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and earned bronze, the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic table tennis medal for the U.S. In July 2019, Jha became the first American to four-peat in men’s singles at the national championships.
Kumar played in his first major tournament when he was 8. The San Jose, Calif.-based left-handed player won the Mini Cadet Boys Singles Championship at the 2016 China Junior and Cadet Open-ITTF Golden Series Junior circuit.
The rising star defeated Sirapat Wongthosarat, Wing Hang Shih and Yue Xu in straight sets in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, respectively, to claim the title.
In 2016, he was part of an India Community Center contingent that claimed 19 gold, 14 silver and 18 bronze medals at the 2016 U.S. National Championship event in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Kumar qualified for the World Table Tennis Championships for men when he was just 14. He was a finalist in the singles event.
In 2019, the 16-year-old took home a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Peru.
In 2020, Kumar became the second youngest U.S. table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games at just 17.