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Watch: Team Malta secure the best-ever result after table tennis historic golden double

Malta players celebrate with their Gold medal in table tennis. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Hosts win record 12th gold medal

Team Malta continued to rewrite its history books at the Games of the Small States of Europe as the third day of competition saw our athletes ensure they finish with their best-ever result in the biennial Games after clinching three gold medals yesterday.

Prior to these Games, Malta’s best-ever result in these Games arrived in the last edition held on home soil in 2003 when on that occasion the home team had won 11 gold medals.

Twenty years on, and the Maltese athletes managed to surpass that tally after winning three gold medals yesterday, with Eleonor Bezzina retaining her title in the 10m Air Pistol while the men’s and women’s table tennis sides struck gold in the team event to help the contingent hit the 12-gold medal mark.

In fact, so far Malta has won a total of 31 medals – 12 gold, 6 silver, and 13 bronze.

“This is not normal… amazing!”. That was Dimitrij Prokopcov’s first, gut reaction, to not only the most remarkable match of his career, but one of the greatest evenings for Malta in the Games of the Small States of Europe.

Understandably so, Prokopcov was still coming to terms with one of the most absorbing sets in the GSSE’s table tennis history.

The University Pavilion once again served as a historic landmark for Maltese sports, 20 years after Santino Coppa’s basketball girls won a historic gold medal against Cyprus, history repeated itself yesterday when the Maltese table tennis teams made a flying start to the 2023 GSSE with two gold medals.

Renata Strbikova and Camella Iacob first and Prokopcov and Felix Wetzel then pushed Malta’s tally of gold medals to an all-time record of 12 when beating Monaco and Luxembourg respectively in the teams event final.

Malta’s women’s table tennis team. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

In the final decisive match, with Malta and Luxembourg tied on 2-2, Eric Glod pushed Prokopcov hard early on, but his spirit appeared crushed when the Maltese player nullified his match point on 10-8 and went on win the gold medal after securing the decider 12-10.

It was a cruel sting in the tail for the visitors who recovered from a deficit of two games to nil.

Prokopcov won his opening match against Luka Mladenovic easily 3-0 before Wetzel doubled Malta’s advantage with a 3-0 win over Glod.

At this stage another success in the doubles rubber would have secured us gold in straight sets but the pairing of Mladenovic and Glod hit admirably to pull one back.

Wetzel suddenly collapsed and Mladenovic won the next three sets to force a decider.

The omens for Malta did not look good when Glod took a 2-0 lead. Prokopcov stayed focused and halted Luxembourg’s momentum with a no-nonsense win in set three and four.  

The Ukraine-born athlete started the decisive set well by going 5-2 up but Glod did not throw in the towel and recovered to go on 10-8.

Felix Wetzel (left and Dimitrij Prokopcov.

The Malta player had to deal with frustration as well after seeing his opponent’s lucky shots when Glod hit the net cord three times to get the points. 

In this important juncture, Prokopcov hit top form to literally snatch the gold medal from his opponent’s neck.

Earlier on, the women’s team kept singles’ event hot favourite Xiaoxin Yang at bay. The Maltese duo Iacob/ Strbikova, in a co-ordinated effort, ensured that her points did not count for the final destination of the gold medal.

Strbikova recovered from a nervy start when she turned the tables on Sannah Lagsir. After losing the first set 11-13, the Czech-born player nullified her opponent’s efforts to win the first match 3-1.

As expected, Iacob found the going tough against Monaco’s No.1 Yang and she lost in three straight sets – 11-8, 11-1, and 11-5.

Yet, the Maltese clan’s spirits were lifted in the doubles rubber when the Maltese couple’s great teamwork outweighed Yang’s extraordinary forehand spin.

Yang made it 2-2 with a white-wash win against Strbikova. But the Romania-born Iacob seized the moment and annihilated Lagsir, giving her no time to build on Yang’s win.

“This was a difficult final as they were the holders. I did not start well in the match against Lagsir as I was down all the time,” an emotional Strbikova said.

“We are so proud to play for Malta. We were under pressure but now I can call myself Maltese. I have been coming her for the last 15 years,” she added.

“I was so nervous but in the end we won gold, and I am so happy,” Iacob admitted.

On his part, Wetzel said: “This is a historic moment for Malta. I am happy to win the gold medal for Malta and having him (Dimitrij Prokopcov) as my team-mate. He did at the end. Unbelievable feelings.”

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