Since winning bronze at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, Brazil’s Hugo Calderano has risen to sixth in the world table tennis rankings and won four Pan American titles. Now he’s based in Germany, where he plays for TTF Ochsenhausen Club. Here, he talks about his ambitions for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, how his YOG experiences have helped him in his career, and how his life has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did you feel when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed?
“At first, I was frustrated, but I knew there was no other option, considering everything the world is going through. I managed to keep positive and motivated to practise.”
What has been the biggest challenge for you during the pandemic?
“As I said, my routine hasn't been deeply affected, especially since we were able to start practising again, about a month ago. But the biggest challenge has been following the news of what's happening to people in the world – especially in Brazil – and trying to keep a positive attitude towards what's coming next.”
How have you had to adapt your training due to the quarantine measures that have been put in place due to COVID-19?
“We were not allowed to go to the hall for some weeks and I tried to adapt some practice at home. I brought a table tennis table to my apartment and some equipment to work out. It was not possible to keep the same kind of practice I am used to, but I tried to take advantage of the time to work on some things I normally don't have the time to work on.”
How else has your life been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I live in a very small town and my routine is pretty much practise, eat, sleep, repeat. After we were allowed to get back to the practice hall, my personal routine hasn't changed much, to be honest.”
As an athlete, you are usually travelling all over the world. What has it been like to spend more time at home due to the pandemic?
“That part was actually positive. The table tennis schedule is very busy, with the international circuit and the matches for the German League. I rarely have the chance to stay home and have a practice streak. I am ready to go back to competitions now, though. I miss it.”
Have there been any other positives that you can take from the situation?
“My mother was here visiting in March and has not been able to go back to Brazil. It is a bonus to have a chance to spend so much time with her after 10 years living apart.”
During 2019, you solidified your position as one of the best players in the world. How happy were you with your season?
“I had a consistent season considering the world circuit. I won all the competitions in the Americas – the PanAm Cup and the PanAm Games – and, with my team in Germany, I won the titles of the Bundesliga and the German Cup. I also managed to hold my world ranking position, so I guess I can say it was a successful season.”
How disappointing is it not to be able to compete at the moment?
“I have been trying to take advantage of the rare opportunity to practise without interruptions. But after two months, I feel I really miss competing.”
Are there any particular aspects of your game that you have been working on during this time?
“Yes, but I'd rather keep that between me and my coach!”
How do you reflect on your experiences at the YOG Nanjing 2014?
“I feel I was so lucky to have been able to compete in Nanjing. It was such a special experience for me and a huge accomplishment to have won a medal.”
Do you think your experiences at the YOG helped prepare you for the Olympic Games Rio 2016?
“Sure. The table tennis competition at the YOG was very strong, with some of the best ranked athletes at the time. And, of course, the Olympic rings make everything more meaningful and memorable.”
What was it like to compete at the Olympic Games on home soil at Rio 2016?
“It was the most memorable experience in my life. I never expected to see so many supporters watching the table tennis in Brazil and encouraging me. I will never forget those days.”
Since Rio 2016, you have become one of the top players in the world. What do you attribute that success to?
“Hard work, a good practice structure, financial support from my club, my individual sponsors, and the Brazilian Olympic Committee and Table Tennis Association, and, most importantly, an excellent team of coaches.”
What are your goals for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020?
“I plan to get to Tokyo in top form and fight for a medal.”
Do you think that having an extra year to prepare for Tokyo could benefit you?
“Probably. I will certainly make the best use of the extra time.”
What are you most looking forward to about the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020?
“At this point, my hope is that the world can beat the new coronavirus and the Games can go ahead as planned.”