We spoke with athlete of the Mongolian national table tennis team and Och Club, National Champion M.Undram about her sports journey. In 2017, she was ranked first in the Table Tennis Premier League and in 2020, she was named one of the top 16 female athletes in Mongolia. That year, she won a gold medal at the National Adult Championships. M.Undram previously grabbed a bronze medal in the singles at the 2017 Mongolian Cup international tournament and a silver medal in the doubles at the 24th East Asian Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championship. She won the National Junior Championships seven times between 2012 and 2018.
The Chengdu 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships and the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games have been postponed. The finals of the 15th National Sports Games are scheduled to be held in fall. Since there will be no major competitions in the near future, the national team is planning to go to South Korea for joint training, right?
Yes, South Korea ranks third in the world for its success in table tennis. We will go there in August to train with South Korean players. Since we usually train in Mongolia, our skills do not improve significantly. Athletes from Kazakhstan and Indonesia continue to compete abroad and train with teams from other countries. The Chengdu 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships has been canceled. Athletes from the top 72 countries used to compete in the World Championships, but now, the top 45 countries will compete. We are ranked 68th in the world, so it is doubtful whether we will be able to participate in the championships.
International Olympic Committee member, President of the Korean Table Tennis Association and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Ryu Seung-min recently visited Mongolia. During his visit, he played friendly matches with the national team. How did you feel about the friendly match?
I was first taught table tennis by State Honored Coach T.Mergen. When our team won a competition, he gave us posters of world-famous athletes. There was a photograph of Ryu Seungmin. As a child at the time, I learned that the incredible champion, Ryu Seung-min, was a table tennis player. Many years later, he came to Mongolia at the invitation of the Mongolian Table Tennis Association to meet different generations of tennis players and share his views. It was interesting to see him in real life.
The audience had waited for a long time for you to win the national championship, right?
I didn’t expect to win the national championship. In the past, I trained hard physically and mentally, but I lost many times. At last year’s National Championship, I played against B.Gantsetseg. I get frustrated and angry if I lose because I panicked. At that time, my friends advised me to play bravely against her. I lost to her 2-0, but after listening to my friends’ advice, I beat her three times in a row. Then I defeated E.Namuunbaigali 3-0 and competed against B.Doljinzuu, an athlete on the national team. She is my strong rival. We play in the national championship every year, so we know each other’s techniques. She studied table tennis in China from an early age, so her technique is different from ours. It was hard to beat her, but I won using tactics different from my usual ones.
After defeating your rival, you played against B.Bolor-Erdene, who participated in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. How did you beat her?
At last year’s national championship, I played against tough opponents who had won national championships and medals. For me, it was a match I had to win. This is because I had competed against B.Bolor-Erdene at the 2018 national championships and won a silver medal. At first, we were tied at 2-2 but then, I took the lead with 3-2. Then, she started gaining momentum so I thought I should win the game right now. It was important for me to stay focused. She trained under the leadership of coach Kang Dong-hoon and gained a lot of experience during the Tokyo Olympics and the Asian Championships in Qatar. In the finals, I beat her 4-2.
My family came to watch my game. My dad didn’t say much, but he told me through his eyes that I shouldn’t lose. When I was young, I didn’t like going home after losing to a weaker opponent. When I became the national champion, my best friend hugged me and shed tears of joy. She waited many years for me to become a champion. My close friends are R.Munkhnaran and B.Munkhzaya. We all trained under coach T.Mergen.
Did your father introduce you to coach T.Mergen?
My father took me to the table tennis club at the Temuujin Sports Training Center. In the first few months, I used to carry tennis balls and collect them during training. At that time, I often wondered when my teacher would let me play tennis. I am always grateful that I was taught under the guidance of an experienced and good teacher. Because of my poor eyesight, I wondered if I could see the ball while playing tennis, but I noticed that my eyesight was gradually improving. I was overjoyed when my ophthalmologist said, “Your eyesight has become better than before.”
So table tennis has had a positive effect on your health. In general, what skills were you able to develop through this sport?
Table tennis has developed me in many ways, improving my eyesight and quick thinking skills. Thanks to sports, I learned to be patient and calm. There is no athlete who succeeds without struggling. There were many times when I became discouraged. It is arduous to continue training without going home after school. After a long day of training, I found it difficult to come home and do my homework. I was jealous when my peers were watching movies and spending their free time doing whatever they wanted to do. But I realized that there are many benefits of doing sports eagerly.
Does that mean you didn’t have time to make friends and hang around with your classmates?
When I was a student, I moved to School No. 96 in Bayangol District. I had just moved to a new school, so I didn’t have any friends. One day, while waiting for my parents outside the school, I met G.Enkh-Ulamjlal. I later found out that she was my classmate. We have been friends ever since. I am currently studying finance at the Business School of the National University of Mongolia.
Can you share about your first participation in the national championship?
When I was about to participate in the Junior National Championships for the first time, I was very excited. The hall of the Och Club, where the championship took place, was full of spectators. I was shocked and scared as I had never seen so many spectators. I cried when I lost that competition. In the doubles, I played against a girl with short hair. At first, I wondered, “Why is this boy playing against me in the women’s division?” When I looked at her again, she was just a girl with very short hair. That player was B.Doljinzuu, a current member of the national team. I lost to her but I was very impressed by her skills.
You’ve said before that it took a long time for you to improve your skills. Did you doubt yourself at the time and feel like wanting to quit table tennis?
I tried hard for a long time but didn’t have any success. My skills didn’t improve at all. I thought I would quit the sport after the next bad competition, but my coach D.Oyunchimeg said, “You cannot be like that. I expect more from you.” Her words filled my empty heart. My parents told me, “You’ve been playing tennis for a long time. Be sure to see the end result. You can do it.” The attitude of my opponents’ supporters also encouraged me to move forward. Everyone wants to be an athlete at some point in their life, but only a few have the patience and endurance for it. Diligence and perseverance are important for succeeding. Moreover, the suggestions and advices from my teacher T.Mergen, coach T.Enkhtur and my friend brought me back to this sport.
According to T.Mergen, your playing tactic was called “Undram technique”, right?
When I was his student, our team won the National Championships in the under-12 age group. I also played against B.Doljinzuu from Khangarid Club of Orkhon Province for the championship but lost. Our team members beat two of her team players. I never lost a medal since then. At the time, I hadn’t been playing tennis for a long time, so I didn’t have a specific style of play. But my teacher T.Mergen knew my tactics, so he called my style of play the “Undram Technique”. In 2012, for the first time, I competed against athlete of the national team G.Indra and defeated her with the “Undram technique”. I had beat her but couldn’t really believe it myself. That gold medal made me love this sport even more. When a league tournament was held in Mongolia, I was better than my peers. Back then, players of the Mongolian national team were training under the guidance of a North Korean coach.
Does your family always understand and support you?
My family always supports me whenever I enter a big competition. During competitions, my dad always tries not to be seen. When it is not easy to beat an opponent, my father comes out and encourages and supports me. I have two brothers. One day, my older brother came to watch the game and said, “You play quietly and without emotion. Shout out to your opponent.”
How did you get into the national team?
When selecting national team players, athletes’ performance and skills are compared and evaluated. The Mongolian Table Tennis Association offered me a place on the national team in 2020 and we signed a contract. The re-selection held in December last year selected three men and three women for the national team. The youngest of us is G.Ser-Od. He is 19 years old.