He may be the youngest member of the four-boy, four-girl Ping-Pong team from South Africa, but Christopher Lau, 11, has more than four years of experience behind him.
Lau has been a master of Ping-Pong since he was 7, when his father, also a keen player, gave him a table for his birthday. Every day Lau Junior practiced his strokes, while his friends climbed trees and chased cats.
The hard work paid off. Within weeks, he was snapped up by his local team. Within months, he was picking up medals all over the country. Two years ago, aged 9, he won the South African championships in the under-12 age group.
Although most of the players in the World Youth Games under-14 competition, which begins Saturday, will be older than Lau, they won't necessarily be wiser.
Lau says he has had plenty of luck, since he arrived in Moscow. "We get free McDonalds, MTV and as much Coca-Cola as we can drink," he beamed. "And it's even sunnier than summer in Johannesburg."
As with many of the participants in the table tennis championships, Lau's roots lie in the Orient ? five eighths of the Brazilian team are the grandchildren of Japanese immigrants. Both of Lau's parents are Chinese ? his father left China to study at Johannesburg University, his mother was born in South Africa. His older brother, too, plays for South Africa.
"He beats me all the time, but he just missed getting onto the youth games team because he was too old for his age group," Lau said.
All the same, Lau doesn't believe it is his Chinese blood that makes him a champion. "The training is more important than where your parents come from," he said.
But he admitted that his opponents are often intimidated by his appearance and slight frame. "When they see me for the first time, they think I must be very, very good, because I'm Chinese," he said. "Sometimes they are extremely afraid of me."
In South Africa, Lau trains for 2 1/2 hours a day, three times a week. He isn't on a special diet, although he says he has to wat ... Read more