The youngest American athlete from the 2016 games in Rio is now fighting his way back to the top in table tennis for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He also happens to be from the Bay Area.
Kanak Jha has spent the past 10 years perfecting his game at table tennis. Working every angle of the sport training to be an Olympian and he’s only 20 years old.
"I started playing table tennis when I was 5 years old," he said. "I have an older sister. She was playing and I used to go to the local center and watch her."
Jha was the youngest U.S. Olympian in 2016 Rio games. But now, he’s the four time U.S. Men’s Singles Champion and ranked 30th in the world in table tennis.
“It was a really great help to play in Rio," he said. "Getting that experience and now I think I’m a different person. I’m mentally and physically more mature. I feel like I’m a much better player."
Jha was born and raised in Milpitas. He later moved to Europe at 15 and now spends seven hours a day and six days a week training with a club team in Germany.
"The world class are setting the bar very high. The Chinese are practicing six to seven hours a day. So, if you want to compete with them you have to find a solution. Just practicing two to three hours a day will not work,” said Joerg Bitzigeio, Jha’s coach.
The two are working to open Triple 8 Table Tennis Center in Burlingame to develop others like Jha. His father and family, who still live in Milpitas, say they couldn’t be prouder.
They say that they cherish the one to two times a year Kanak can come home because of his schedule. The family also wished they could go to Tokyo. But outside spectators are not allowed at this year's games.
“I’m looking forward to Tokyo. Unfortunately, we cannot go but we’ll participate remotely, and hope he does well and so does Team USA,” said Arun Jha, Kanak’s father.
It’s clear that Jha is ready to compete.
“Now to finally be 100 days out, it feels kind of strange to be honest. It’s been so long now. I’m really excited and looking forward to it,” he said.