At the Dandenong Table Tennis Centre, 11-year-old Connie Psihogios is sweating on her backhand and dreaming of a summer in Tokyo. During these school holidays, the pint-sized dynamo has been training up to six hours a day, preparing for the biggest challenge of her young life so far.
Her coach Michael Mastromonaco says Connie’s a long shot, a one per cent chance at becoming the youngest ever Australian Olympic athlete, and among the youngest in Olympics history. The consensus is that Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras was 10 when he competed at the 1896 games in Athens, making him the youngest ever. Two others have become Olympians at the age of 11. Connie, a grade six student at Dandenong North Primary School, could join that exclusive club.
Last November – still only 10 years old – Connie defied the odds to reach the final qualifiers for a spot on the Australian Olympic women’s table tennis team. She was in the first-stage qualifiers for the experience, to make up the numbers. But her perseverance, form and the luck of the draw suddenly changed all that.
She advanced alongside Olympics and Commonwealth Games competitor Stephanie Sang, second-ranked junior Matilda Alexandersson and No.1-ranked junior Parleen Kaur. That quartet will now compete against the six top-ranked players, including 46-year-old veteran Jian Fang Lay, to decide which four will represent Australia in Tokyo. The final qualifiers will be held at the Croydon & Districts Table Tennis Association centre from January 17-19.