CUTTACK: During the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast last year, one athlete had got the entire world talking. Social media and newspapers the world over were swamped with pictures of Anna Hursey. The then 11-year-old had become the youngest-ever to compete at the quadrennial showpiece.
One year on, the paddler from Wales, currently in Cuttack to participate in the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship, says the initial hype has come down now and she can finally enjoy herself a little. “Back then everyone wanted to speak to me. So many people kept asking me questions. Now it’s all back to normal. I can go out with my friends and lead a normal life,” the 13-year-old said.
The youngest-ever to represent her country in a senior event, Anna was inducted into the sport by her father at the age of five, when she was barely managing to see over the top of the table. Her father, Larry, was a club-level player and soon she started taking an interest. However, Larry and his wife Xiuli could not find a coach for her at such a young age in Wales.
Xiuli decided to take Anna to her native China for training and that paid off handsomely as the girl from Cardiff went on to win the Welsh U-18 title at the age of nine, paving the way for a senior call-up. “My mum’s from China so her family stays there. I used to stay with one of her sisters and train out there. I have been there a couple of times earlier but the last time I went, I ended up staying for a year.”
When in Wales, the Carmarthen-born paddler plays for a couple of hours after school. But during her trips to Harbin in China, things can get quite gruelling. “It’s quite hard there. Seven-eight hours a day are completely devoted to training. It’s very tiring. The good thing is I get to train with better players,” the year eight pupil at Cardiff High School added.
She is a shy girl off the court, soft-spoken and nervous laughter accompanies most of her answers. But when a paddle is placed in her hands, she becomes a completely different person. The focus and determination shine through. While still being quite young, the Hursey family have plans for her to hone her skills in China.“I want to play the sport professionally and make a career out of it. There are plans to go back to China and train there while doing home school on a computer.”
Her journey to Cuttack was just as interesting as her story. She was playing in the European Youth Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The meet got over on Tuesday. She had to go to Katowice (Poland) by car before flying out to Frankfurt. From there she boarded a flight to New Delhi and finally to Bhubaneswar. More than 24 hours spent crisscrossing the world.
“I reached this morning. My flight got delayed and hence, I missed out on yesterday’s (Wednesday) matches. I practised for an hour here and then played this morning. I love the sport so these things are part and parcel of sport,” she signed off.
Place of birth: Carmarthen
Country of birth: Wales
In 2017, Hursey, aged 10, competed for Wales in a European Championship qualification match against Kosovo. In doing so, she is believed to be the youngest person to represent Wales at a senior level in any sport