A place in the table tennis competition at the Olympic Games next year is the prize and the European Qualifying Tournament next month at the Nynex Arena, Manchester, from 10 to 14 January, provides the route to Atlanta.
Qualifying is based on the world rankings and 26 men and women have alreday gained their place automatically, including the two British men, Carl Prean and Chen Xinhua. Ten places are available at Manchester and the best in Europe will compete, some 100 players in each of the men's and women's events, representing 38 countries.
Each nation selects three players and in the British men's section Matthew Syed, of Reading, will attempt to join Prean and Chen in Atlanta. His form at the recent Hungarian Open gives him every chance of making his way to the top 10 at Manchester. The women's squad have to qualify and comprises the top three in the English rankings, Andrea Holt, the National champion from Manchester, Lisa Lomas, from Luton, and Alison Broe, the Reading player.
They will up against top-class players from Europe, like the Swede Jorgen Persson, the former World and European champion, Damien Eloi, of France, the English Open champion, and the German, Steffen Fetzner, a former World doubles champion. The women's competition has such names as Elena Timina, of Russia, Olga Nemes, the former European champion from Germany, and the Slovak, Valentina Popova.
The huge Nynex Arena, with a capacity of 19,000, twice the size of the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, also stages basketball, ice hockey and concerts, and is built on the old Victoria station. Communications are excellent, with the British Rail service into Victoria station and the Metrolink, a tram system linking the Arena with all parts of the city.
The organisers are providing a "Quid a Kid" offer, whereby children up to 15 (under-fives are free), Senior Citizens and concessions can watch top-class table tennis for a pounds 1 at any stage of the tournament. The Manchester Visitors' Bureau has an accommodation guide and hotel-booking service to personal callers at their offices in the Town Hall.
European Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Nynex Arena, Manchester, 10-14 January.
Playing schedule: Tuesday, 9 January: 7pm The draw; Wednesday, 10 January (noon-10pm), Thursday, 11 January (10am-10pm), Friday, 12 January (10am- 10pm): Group matches; Saturday, 13 January (11am-9pm): Group matches and Knockout first round; Sunday, 14 January (10am-6pm): Knock-out second round and finals.
Admission: 10 January: pounds 1 adults all day and eveing, pounds 1 evening only; 11: pounds 2, pounds 2; 12: pounds 3, pounds 2; 13: pounds 4, pounds 2; 14: pounds 5. pounds 1 Children 15 and under, OAPs, full-time students, UB40 holders and those registered with special needs at all times. Under-fives are free. Weekend tickets (Saturday/Sunday) pounds 7.50 adults, pounds 2 children. Season tickets (five days) pounds 12, pounds 4. 24-hour hotline 0161 930 8000 or directly from the Box Office, Nynex Arena, Victoria Station, Hunts Bank, Manchester.
Manchester Visitors Centre, Town Hall Extension, St Peter's Square, Manchester M60 2LA. (Tel: 0161 234 3157/8; fax 0161 234 9900).
Details of forthcoming events with information on tickets and venues should be sent to: The Sports Desk, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171 293 2894.
Compiled by Paul MaherReuse content