BEIJING (Reuters) - Swedish table tennis great Jan-Ove Waldner would have loved to triumph at the Beijing Games but he will settle for a cold beer instead.
Some held out hope that the 1992 Olympic champion and silver medalist in 2000, known in Chinese as “Old Wa”, would storm back on to the world stage here in the heartland of table tennis.
After all, he finished fourth at Athens in 2004 — his fifth Olympics — and still plays for a German club.
But Waldner, 42, never second-guessed his decision to retire from international competition two years ago.
“I know my body is not good enough, my back is not good enough,” said Waldner. “I had so much pain.”
A constant thorn in the side of Chinese opponents over his two-decade-long career — he played in every Olympics since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1988 — Waldner earned grudging respect and eventually a big fan base in China.
He parlayed his fame into a bar in downtown Beijing, complete with a table tennis table in the dining area and a house specialty of Swedish meatballs.
That bar, W, has now become a refuge of sorts on his regular trips to China.
“When I come over to Beijing, I can always go to my bar and then I can relax and invite some friends, then it’s not so many people around me all the time,” he said.
Asked about his role in running the bar, Waldner joked: “I’m not cooking so much any more. I’m taking the beer more. I take a Tsingtao instead of cooking.”
The Swede hinted that he might find it tough being nothing more than a spectator in Beijing.
“Maybe when I start to watch the matches, maybe then I will feel it a bit. But just now it feels okay,” he said.
“As a player, I think this is the biggest that you can win, Olympic Games in China, so if I could choose one other tournament, I’d like to win this title, for sure.”
Editing by Jon Bramley