The no.1 Mexican table tennis player continues his preparations for Tokyo 2020 in France
When he was nine years old, Marcos Madrid made a Christmas wish: to have a ticket to attend the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Sadly, Santa Claus did not fulfil his wish.
But Madrid knew that one day he would go to the Olympic Games and put all his efforts into achieving this dream. Finally, he reached his goal when he was selected to represent Mexico at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. And nobody needed to give him a ticket: he earned it himself after years of training and dedicating his life to the sport of table tennis.
Although table tennis has the largest number of recreational players in the world, it is not particularly popular in Mexico.
Currently, there are only about 2,000 affiliated players. So how did a young man from Puebla decide to dedicate his life to table tennis?
“In my family we have always been very athletic. We used to go to a club where we could play soccer, basketball or tennis. I also did gymnastics. One day, I started playing ping pong. Someone saw me play there and suggested to me to join a club. I started going, I liked it and the evolution was fast,” he explained to Tokyo 2020.
Ever since he started playing, Madrid had this dream: to be number one in Mexico and represent them internationally.
The turning point of his career came when he was 14 when an opportunity arose to train in China.
“I met a Chinese coach who was working in Mexico. When he finished his contract and was returning to his country, he told me that he believed in my potential and suggested that I accompany him to start this project. It was not an easy decision, especially for my mum, but I moved there."
A year in China
In 2001, Madrid moved to Nanjing, where he spent a couple of months before moving to Shanghai, where he lived for eight more months.
The experience changed him forever.
“Being able to train in a Chinese club with great players, just seeing them playing all the time, how they invest their time and energy, it was a very good experience. My technique changed - I acquired a good foundation and I became a faster and stronger player."
After that, he decided to return to Mexico and whilst the results took time to arrive in 2004, he was crowned the national champion for the first time in his home country. Since then, he has been adding victories one after the other.
Experts say the Mexican stands out for his "Chinese style", with his fast and powerful forehand.
"I am an explosive and high risk player."
The Olympic dream
For Madrid, the Olympic Games had always been one of his biggest goals.
In 2008, he didn't qualify for the Beijing Games but two years later, his efforts started to pay off. The Central American and Caribbean Games (JCC) in Mayagüez catapulted his career when he won three medals: gold in individual, silver in mixed and bronze in doubles.
The table tennis player continued to earn victories including a third place at the 2017 Pan American Table Tennis Championships, an individual championship at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games held in Barranquilla and two gold medals from the 2019 Central American Major Table Tennis championship held in Guatemala.
2019 Getty Images
But, without a doubt, the highlight of his playing career came when he qualified for the Rio 2016 Games.
“It was very special because my wait was so long after previous attempts to make it for Beijing and London. But, finally, my dream was fulfilled," he said.
However, in Brazil, Madrid fell in the first round to Slovakian Yang Wang.
“It was a tough competition," the 33-year-old recalled.
"I think I gave everything I can, but maybe there were little details that made a big difference. But I am also happy because I enjoyed the experience a lot."
One of the favourite moments he fondly remembers was being able to talk in the Olympic Village dining room with athletes he admires such as one of the most decorated Olympians Michael Phelps and tennis ace Rafael Nadal.
A Latino in France
Another important moment in Madrid's life came a decade ago when he made the decision to move to France and join a professional team.
"In Mexico, there are no professional leagues for my sport, so I had to move to Europe in order to compete," he said.
For the Aztec player, being part of an elite league has helped him acquire a better competitive level.
"It helps me to get much stronger, playing in a league that has that level - you have to know how to take advantage of it."
For the last eight years, Madrid has been playing with the CaenTTC team however at the beginning of April he announced that he was leaving the club and would soon announce his next destination.
At the moment, Madrid plans to stay in France.
"We are finalising the details, but I have a couple of offers and the idea is to stay here near where I live in Paris."
It is precisely in this city where he is currently confined in a small apartment of 35 sqm after the French Government declared a state of emergency.
At the moment, he tries to stay active doing all different kinds of exercises.
“At the beginning of the isolation I got a stationary bike to do cardio. I combine that with other exercises, yoga classes and mental workouts. It is very important for me to visualise matches, moments of tension or victories," he said.
In addition, he is taking advantage to do things which he normally does not have time for, such as taking online cooking classes.
“I have always loved cooking, sharing recipes with my mother. It's something I wouldn't mind spending more time on in the future."
Like many other athletes, the announcement of the postponement of the Olympic Games for next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a relief.
“It was the best decision that can be made, since all the athletes are unable to train. Many of us are totally out of shape for having unable to work for a month or two. At least now we know we have more time to prepare."
According to the International Table Tennis Federation, Madrid is currently ranked 75th in the world. Although he is not yet qualified for the Tokyo Games, he was expecting to do so at a tournament that was supposed to be held this month in Argentina where four places were going to be distributed among Latin America athletes.
But due to the global pandemic, the tournament will most likely be cancelled until the spring of next year.
“One of the problems derived from all this situation caused by COVID-19 is an economic one. Many minority sports athletes depend on scholarships and it is likely that from now on the number of supports will decrease," he said.
In his case, he receives financial contribution from a Mexican institution. But despite this support and the support of some sponsors, he lives mainly on the income he earns from competing. With the leagues stopped until September, his income as a club player may also be affected.
Keep playing until Paris 2024
Regarding the more immediate future, Madrid thinks that it is better not to make many plans until everything related to COVID-19 is clearer.
“After Tokyo, I had planned to slow down a bit, at least for six months, because I have been very busy, with many trips and international competitions. I wanted to take a little time for myself, my partner and my family."
Right now his future continues to be in France, where he hopes to continue training and living until Paris 2024.
"I think it would be a good way to, perhaps, put an end to my sports career and my time in Europe."
For now, he will continue to wait in his French home as he continues to miss playing the sport he has dedicated his entire life to and to which he hopes to return as soon as possible.