Top Table Tennis Players – Mark Hazinski and Michael Landers
Mark Hazinski has been playing table tennis since he was nine years old. He was introduced to the sport when his elementary school principal offered an after school program. Mark's aptitude for the sport was quickly handsome and his love of the game was instantaneous. On a whim he decided to attend a tournament he heard about in passing. At the tournament he heard about an offer for a free lesson with Coach Viktor Tolkachev. He signed up, and the rest is history. He began training at the South Bend Table Tennis Club under Coach Viktor Tolkachev. Mark progressed steadily under his direction until Tolkachev left the club to return to his homeland when Mark was eleven. Dan Seemiller, a 5-time US Men's Singles Champion, took over coaching duties at the club and Mark flourished. He was having a great time, but he was not simply training to be training. Mark had a goal. He wanted to make it to the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. His parents had faith in his abilities and removed Mark from school and began a home-school program so that Mark could devote more time to training. He began training five days each week.
At the age of fifteen he earned a spot on the US Men's National Team and was the youngest player to ever do so. He has trained in Sweden, Germany, China, and Japan. His dedication and efforts have rejected in eight Junior Olympian Gold medals, five under-22 US Singles Championships, two Men's US Doubles Championships, a US Mixed Doubles Championship, and numerous collegiate national championships. In 2003 he was named as the USATT player of the year and in 2004 he realized his dream of competitiveness in the Olympic Games. He was also a member of the 2007 US Pan American Games team.
Although he narrowly missed a spot on the 2008 US Olympic Team, Mark has not given up on becoming a two-time Olympian. Earning a spot on the 2010 US National Team, his fourth national team, is another step towards making it to the 2012 Olympic Games.
In another part of the country, fifteen-year-old Michael Landers is following a path similar to that of Mark Hazinski. Like Hazinski, Michael has been playing table tennis since he was a young boy. Born in Mineola, New York on August 16, 1994, Michael first played the game as a toddler. His family has photographs of Michael at the age of two, paddle in hand, standing on a couch to reach the table, ready to play. The game was a hobby for the young Michael until a twist of fate, in the form of a broken arm, preverted him from participating in other sports such as tennis, baseball, and soccer. Unable to attend a summer sports camp due to the injury, his family searched for activities to help their nine year old son stay active. They found a table tennis club in Queens and Michael began taking lessons from Hui Yuan Liu, a National Coach. He was playing in tournaments in four months. Before a year had passed he earned first place in under-12 doubles and second place in singles at the 2005 Junior Olympics. His natural abilities assistant, he chose to stop participating in other sports and began to focus on training for table tennis competitions.
Michael racked up wins including the 2008 Canada Cup Open Doubles Championship, 2008 Eastern Open U-16 Boys Championship, and 2009 Chinatown U-2400 Champion. In 2009, Michael became the youngest athlete to win the US National Men's Singles Championship. His success to date has earned him a spot on the 2010 US Nationals Team and has aroused a talk of the possibility that he could make the US Team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. With all the attention, Michael places humble and focused on making table tennis more popular in the United States. When he is not training or attending school, he spends time writing letters to athletic companies, asking them to support the game. He knows that marketing departments may show more interest in promoting the sport since he is a young kid competing against grown men. He is wise enough to use what works to achieve success for himself and for the sport.