Jean-Michel Saive, a table tennis player famed for his fair play
He is unquestionably the greatest Belgian table tennis player of all time. World number 1 in the 1990s and former European Champion, Jean-Michel Saive is as famous for his precocious talent as for his sportsmanship and his humour.
Born on 17 November 1969 in Liège into a family of table tennis players, "Jean-Mi" naturally fell under the spell at an early age. At 13, he was already one of the best players in Belgium and starting to play for the national team.
He won his first individual title of Belgian Champion in 1985, a title that he would retain for 5 consecutive years and win a total of 25 times! In 1991, he received the National Sports Merit Trophy, an award presented to the year's best Belgian athlete.
Feared by his opponents for his forehand topspin, it was primarily his exceptional determination and nerves of steel that made him an internationally renowned table tennis player. In 1994, Jean-Michel Saive became world number one, a ranking that he would retain for over a year. In this same year, he became European Champion in Birmingham. This was the first time that a Belgian had won such a competition!
In 2011, aged 41, he qualified for his 7th Olympic Games during his 20th World Championship in Rotterdam, therefore competing in 7 Olympic Games from those in Seoul in 1988 to those of London in 2012!
In 2012, after 20 years at the Club La Villette in Charleroi, he joined the Logis Auderghem club with which he once again became Belgian Champion. The club then became the first to win the title of Champion of Belgium after 25 years of unchallenged rule by Villette Charleroi. This success alone demonstrated the importance of Jean-Michel Saive in the world of table tennis in Belgium.
On 4 January 2014, he took part in the funniest match in the sport's history by fooling around and even leaving the playing arena during his rallies with the Taiwanese Chuang Chih-yuan at a tournament in Taiwan. The video went viral, creating a real buzz on the internet with over 25 million views!
Also known for his sportsmanship, Jean-Michel was awarded the UNESCO World Award of Fair Play in 1989. His exemplary behaviour on the court and his likeableness make him a very popular personality with the public. Since 2007, he took part in ShowPing alongside the Taloche brothers and the comedian Pierre Theunis.
He finally retired from the sport on 9 May 2019.
© Stéphane De Coster