Connect with us

Games of the Small States of Europe

Wetzel wants to help young Maltese players to blossom

Keen to play for Malta at the Olympic Games

Felix Wetzel was one of the heroes in Team Malta that enjoyed so much success at the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe after helping the country not only secure the gold medal in the team event but ended an 18-year wait to be crowned singles champion in the biennial Games.

The inclusion of the German-born table tennis player in the Malta line-up steered a lot of controversies after he was awarded a passport on sporting merit to represent Team Malta in the Games.

But the 21-year-old fully justified his selection with a strong performance at the University Sports Hall and is determined to work harder to bring more international success to Malta and give his contribution to help the sport continue to grow in the next few years.

“I feel very proud and privileged to have been given this opportunity to represent Malta at the 2023 GSSE,” Wetzel told the Times of Malta.

“I hope that I made all the Maltese people very proud with my success and achievements during the tournament.

“I only have words of gratitude for everyone involved in the team as they welcomed me from the first day here and the spirit among all the athletes in the contingent was very good.

“There was no added pressure on us to perform and we kept together to try and reach our primary goal – help Malta win as many gold medals as possible.

“I have to pay tribute to not only my coaching staff in the team but also the medical team who took care of me every single day so that I am able to step onto the court in the best physical condition.

“The table tennis competitions in the GSSE are very demanding as you have five consecutive days of play non-stop, so you need to be not only ready from a physical point of view but more so from a mental point of view.

“But I was always ready for this challenge and I’m glad that I delivered.”

Despite his young age, Wetzel has been practising the sport for many years and mental strength has been one of his greatest attributes that were nurtured during his teen years

“When I was still a cadet, we were 38 male players and the coach needed to select the best 20 players to compete in the European competitions,” Wetzel said.

“The coach decided to organise a tournament between us and whoever won the competition would take his rest and the other 37 players would continue to play non-stop until the final selection was made. We started at 8am and finished at 2 or 3am in the morning. Those experiences surely has built a certain level of mental toughness in me.

“No doubt, had I wasn’t so mentally strong I would not have been so successful as the level of competition in these Games is so high. There were players in this tournament, like the two guys from Luxembourg who I played against European tournaments so I knew straightaway how hard it was going to be.”

Schlager ties

Wetzel said that he hopes his success has inspired more youngsters to start practising the sport but more importantly he is committed to using his contacts in the sport, which include table tennis legend Werner Schlager, who is one of his coaches, and organise a number of activities to help young Maltese players to become better players.

“I know that during the Games a lot of children and youngsters came to watch us play,” Wetzel said.

“My message to these youngsters is that whatever you dream to do in life you can do it if you work hard for it. Anything is possible in life… you just have to believe in it.

“After these Games, I want to give a lot back to Malta and I hope to be able to organise a lot of training camps here in Malta for young players. In my career I had contacts with so many great coaches that would surely love to come here and provide their knowledge to help more youngsters improve their game.

“One of my coaches is a table tennis legend, Werner Schlager, and I have other top-notch coaches and players who would love to come during training camps that I’d love to organise here in Malta. I want Maltese table tennis to become better and I will be more than happy to step up this drive.”

Team Malta’s GSSE gold medallist Simon Gerada, who was coach of the men’s team, said that Maltese table tennis is blessed to have one of the strongest teams for the past 20 years and now it’s time to push on their legacy.

“Twenty years ago there were only six people in the hall,” Gerada said.

“Then professional players came to Malta and showed the way. Today we have one of the strongest table tennis teams and that was clear during the 2023 GSSE with the level of professionalism shown by the team and how much they connected with the people.

“Seeing people from outside the sport taking photos with Felix and the other players in the team was something amazing and Maltese table tennis needs to build on this if the sport is to continue to flourish.”

Gerada was the one person who recommended to the Maltese Olympic Committee to include Wetzel in the team and the Australia-based table tennis coach said the thing that impressed him most about him was his energy and background.

“When you embark on a project like this you need energy and Felix is full of energy when he plays,” Gerada said.

“He is a breath of fresh air and it is exciting to work with someone like him. Added to that I was also impressed with his background as an athlete which is second to none. When you have a legendary figure like Werner Schlager who chose to work with Felix and not vice-versa tells you a lot about his credibility and potential.

Felix Wetzel (right) with his coach, the legendary Werner Schalager.

“I have no doubt that Felix will be a great asset for Maltese table tennis for years to come.”

Turning his sights on the immediate future, Wetzel said that next month he will play for Malta in a major European tournament where he hopes to win more ranking points towards his biggest dream – to represent Malta at the Olympics.

“The next goal for me is to continue to climb up the rankings,” Wetzel, who is ranked 366 in the world, said.

“I want to break into the top 100 and then the top 50 and the top 20 as the big dream for me is to represent Malta at the Olympics.

“I know that I have a lot of work to do but I am determined to achieve my goals.

“Qualifying for Paris Games next year would be huge but if I don’t, my target will be the next edition in Los Angeles in 2028.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


World Cup News


More in Games of the Small States of Europe