Table tennis OAP takes on Japanese prodigy

STEPHEN PULLINGER It's a game wrapped up in oriental mystery. So when a television crew from one of Japan's biggest channels, TBS, decided to make a prime-time show featuring table tennis as a sport for all ages it might seem bizarre they travelled 6,000 miles to shoot it - in the far east of England.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It's a game wrapped up in oriental mystery.

So when a television crew from one of Japan's biggest channels, TBS, decided to make a prime-time show featuring table tennis as a sport for all ages it might seem bizarre they travelled 6,000 miles to shoot it - in the far east of England.

However, the reason for their 12-hour flight was to catch up with inspirational Gorleston great-grandmother Edna Fletcher, winner of multiple titles at world veteran table tennis championships.


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On Saturday, September 15 at least 10 million Japanese television viewers will switch on to see a game played on Wednesday at Yarmouth Town Hall between the 81-year-old and a six-year-old Japanese table tennis prodigy Mima Ito.

TBS researcher Hitomi Nomura said: “The match will feature on a popular You Can Do It style show in which Japanese people go round the world to complete a challenge. We think the age gap in this case is very interesting.”

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She said Mima, who comes from Tokyo, was already a well-known talent in Japan where table tennis is a national sport.

They had tracked down Mrs Fletcher, whose most recent success came last year when she won the over-80s doubles title at the world veterans' championship in Germany, via the internet.

Mrs Fletcher, of Lowestoft Road, has been playing the sport for 60 years and confessed that she was eagerly awaiting the start of yet another season playing in division one of the Yarmouth and district league for the Hospital Sparks team, based at the town's Northgate Social Club.

And she did not have to say her competitive juices were still flowing - after insisting on getting to the Town Hall 90 minutes early for practice.

“I discovered Mima has been practising since her arrival,” said Mrs Fletcher, who spends as much time coaching youngsters as playing these days. “I was quite surprised when I found out I would be playing a six-year-old but I am aware she is already a celebrity in Japan.”

Pondering the cameras and lights and rows of spectators in the Assembly Room, she said: “This is nerve-racking playing under the lights - and we are not used to spectators in the local league.”

Mima had flown into London late on Monday but was not allowed to meet Mrs Fletcher until they both made their grand entrance into the playing arena at 6.30pm.

The Town Hall had swiftly arranged the venue and Mayor Paul Garrod attended to present Mima with gifts including a plaque with Yarmouth's coat of arms.

A translator assisted with the introductions as the show was hosted by Asami Kumakiri, described as the glamorous Japanese equivalent of Cat Deeley.

Scarcely tall enough to look over the top of the table, Mima drew applause from the 100-strong audience with a series of thunderous smashes.

Mrs Fletcher battled hard but went down three sets to love failing to strike a blow for grey power. The exact score is being kept under wraps until the show.

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