Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar qualify for US Olympic team

Kanak Jha and Nikhil Kumar
Kanak Jha (left) and Nikhil Kumar. Photo credit: ITTF and Team USA

Indian American table tennis stars among 118 athletes chosen for Tokyo games starting July 23.

Indian American table tennis stars Kanak Jha and Nikhil Kumar are among six players chosen to represent the US at the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games set to open July 23.

In all, 118 athletes have so far qualified for the US Olympic team, which should be more than 500 total athletes come the July 23 Opening Ceremony, according to NBC Sports.

Many of the qualified athletes needed to be re-confirmed by the their national governing body and US Olympic and Paralympic Committee following the Olympic postponement to 2021. But there are no signs that any of their spots are in jeopardy, it said.

Kumar and three others – Juan Liu, former Chinese national team player, Huijing Wang, and Xin Zhou – qualified for the games at a competition in 2020. The four qualifiers joined Jha and Lily Zhang, who had previously qualified.

Jha and Zhang qualified for the games by merit of being the highest ranked American in their gender in the February ITTF World Rankings 2020. Jha is 25th, while Zhang is 28th.

Jha’s career-high ranking to date was 22nd in September 2019. The Milpitas, California, based table tennis player made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, competing in both singles and doubles.

In the 2014 ITTF Men’s World Cup, Jha became the youngest ever to play in the world cup at age 14. Two years later, he became the first athlete born in the 2000s to qualify for a US Olympic Team.

He competed at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and earned bronze, the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic table tennis medal for the US.

In July 2019, Jha became the first American to four-peat — fourth consecutive or first place finish by a single participant — in men’s singles at the national championships.

Kumar played in his first major tournament when he was eight. The San Jose, California, based left-handed player won the Mini Cadet Boys Singles Championship at the 2016 China Junior and Cadet Open-ITTF Golden Series Junior circuit.

In 2016, he was part of an India Community Center contingent that claimed 19 gold, 14 silver and 18 bronze medals at the 2016 US National Championship event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2020, Kumar became the second youngest US table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games at just 17.

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