Connie’s place at the big table: 11-year-old aims to qualify for Olympics

At the Dandenong Table Tennis Centre, 11-year-old Connie Psihogios is sweating on her backhand and dreaming of a summer in Tokyo. During these school holidays, the pint-sized dynamo has been training up to six hours a day, preparing for the biggest challenge of her young life so far.

Her coach Michael Mastromonaco says Connie’s a long shot, a one per cent chance at becoming the youngest ever Australian Olympic athlete, and among the youngest in Olympics history. The consensus is that Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras was 10 when he competed at the 1896 games in Athens, making him the youngest ever. Two others have become Olympians at the age of 11. Connie, a grade six student at Dandenong North Primary School, could join that exclusive club.

Victorian schoolgirl Connie Psihogios has been playing competitive table tennis for only four years.

Victorian schoolgirl Connie Psihogios has been playing competitive table tennis for only four years.Credit:Eddie Jim

Last November – still only 10 years old – Connie defied the odds to reach the final qualifiers for a spot on the Australian Olympic women’s table tennis team. She was in the first-stage qualifiers for the experience, to make up the numbers. But her perseverance, form and the luck of the draw suddenly changed all that.

She advanced alongside Olympics and Commonwealth Games competitor Stephanie Sang, second-ranked junior Matilda Alexandersson and No.1-ranked junior Parleen Kaur. That quartet will now compete against the six top-ranked players, including 46-year-old veteran Jian Fang Lay, to decide which four will represent Australia in Tokyo. The final qualifiers will be held at the Croydon & Districts Table Tennis Association centre from January 17-19.

Connie, who started playing club table tennis at seven years old, says getting through the first stage of qualifiers has been the proudest achievement of her career so far. She’s excited about going toe-to-toe with heroes like 29-year-old Melissa Tapper but shy about talking up her chances.

“In the first-stage qualifiers, I beat players I had never beaten before,” she says. “I was nervous, but I played some good games. I haven’t told my friends about it.”

Mastromonaco plays down talk of Connie pulling off an even bigger boilover. He says she has already surpassed all expectations. “She’s a very hard worker,” he says. “But she’s up against players with years of experience on her. She’s learning how to play consistently against high-calibre opponents.”

Table Tennis Victoria chief executive Ritchie Hinton says Connie’s performances are astonishing for someone of her age. “For a girl who was only 10 at the time to even have the nerve to participate in an Olympic qualification tournament is truly remarkable,” Hinton says. “To then beat some of these players and progress to the final stage of qualification is nothing short of mind-boggling.”