NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 23 – With less than 40 days before the start of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Africa Top 16 Championships, the Kenyan team has intensified its training and are upbeat of winning the continental showpiece that will be hosted at Nairobi’s Kasarani Gymnasium from March 1-3.
In Kenya, the biggest names Sejal Thakkar and Bryan Mutua are putting the final touches to their preparations, ready to go head-to-head with Africa’s most respected table tennis stars.
Likewise, the Local Organizing Committee headed by Joseph Okello is working round the clock to ensure all is well ahead of the prestigious championship.
“The ITTF Africa Continental Cup is a special event in the hearts and minds of the continental table tennis community. It is a real privilege to evoke the memory of the greatest players and adventurers of that period by hosting the continent’s most challenging historic men’s and women’s Cup which holds the key to the World Cup slots for the continent,” Local Organizing Committee Manager Joseph Okello said.
This year’s Africa Top 16 includes the crème de la crème of Africa, who have encouraged many new regional competitors to show interest in the Nairobi 2018 edition. Cup holders Aruna Quadri of Nigeria and Meshref Dina of Egypt are the star attractions, said Kenya Table Tennis Association President Andrew Mudibo.
Kenya unveiled two of the players on Tuesday who will represent the host nation on the forthcoming tournament.
Kenya’s rising star Bryan Mutua and experienced top lady Sejal Thakkar were all smiles at a press briefing organized by the LOC to brief the media on event preparations.
Mutua, a product of KTTA’s “Tucheze Tebo” (Swahili for Let’s play TT) is one of the fastest rising Kenyan youngsters and a prodigy from the evergreen Mwala High School production line in the Eastern of Kenya.
Sejal, the never-say-never women’s table tennis star, will be playing her fourth Commonwealth Games for Kenya this year after having the feel of the Top 16 Championships in Nairobi.
“It’s the passion of the game that drives me and bring me back to the TT table time and time again. Playing against the Top 16, some of who we interacted with prior to Khartoum 2016 Olympic qualifiers which coincided with the Continental Cup will be all good and a moment to savor for long,” Thakkar said.
Meanwhile, Top 16 slots are filling up as fast with a few more slots remaining. In the men’s category, Sami Kherouf of Algeria will represent the Northern region. He will be joined by Brian Chan Yook Fo of Mauritius. Yook Fo won the men’s category at the recent Easter Championships in Mauritius.
Egyptian duo of Assar Omar and Saleh Ahmed top the list which also include the legendary Toriola Segun of Nigeria. Segun, who attended the unpreceded seventh Olympic in Rio, conducted some training clinics in Kenya in December 2016.
Also in the mix are Mamia Thameur of Tunisia, Congolese Idowu Saheed, Oba Oba Chizito of Ivory Coast, Soufiane Harb of Morocco, South African duo of Lingeveldt Kurt and Lingeveldt Keegan.
In the ladies category, 16 year old Prathma Jalim of Mauritius and Saidani Safa of Tunisia will represent the Eastern and Northern regions respectively.
The star-studded ladies list also comprises of Oshonaike Olufunke of Nigeria, Abdel-Aziz Farah of Egypt, Nigerian Olympian Edem Offiong, and Algerian duo of Loghraibi Lynda and LAID Islem.
Others are Han Xing of Congo, Ivory Coast’s Sarah Hanffou of Ping Sans Frontieres, Tshepiso Rebatenne of Cameroon and Okockou Ira of Congo.The Central, Western and Southern regions are yet to submit their qualifiers.