Team USA table tennis star Timothy Wang might have the most unusual choice of pregame pump-up music of any Olympian heading into Rio.
“If it’s before a match, I’m probably listening to classical music,” said Wang, who will play exclusively in men’s team at the upcoming Olympics.
“My favorite composer is Frank Ticheli,” Wang told NBC Olympics at a USA Table Tennis fundraiser in Dunellen, New Jersey. “His kind of music is light, upbeat, puts you in a good mood. It’s very nice on the ears.”
Born and raised in Houston, the 24-year-old Wang was the lone American table tennis player at the 2012 Games in London. But heading into Rio, he’s the elder statesman on Team USA’s first-ever Olympic table tennis team.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Last time in London I was the only male representative, so for us to have a team this time is really good. We’ll be able to practice together, warm up together and cheer each other on when we have matches, so it’s really exciting.”
Wang hopes to use his experience to guide his younger teammates through the games. “I’m definitely going to try to help out the team. Let them know my experiences a little bit, and hopefully we’ll be more prepared.”
The other members of Team USA will lean on Wang as a mentor entering Rio; teammates Yijun Feng and Kanak Jha are only 19 and 16, respectively. While Feng and Jha take advice and encouragement from their elder, Wang also benefits by gaining eager sparring partners.
“Me and the rest of the guys are talking about having a 2K battle,” Wang says, referring to a popular basketball video game. “We all think we can beat each other, but we haven’t played yet.”
Between marathon training sessions and bonding with his teammates over video games, Wang has had a busy summer building up to Rio. Still, the work doesn’t stop once this year’s Games conclude. Wang plans on opening a table tennis club in Houston in the coming months.
“I decided to open a club because I’ve been playing my whole life and for me I always had to travel, whether it be domestically or internationally for training,” Wang said. “I wanted to bring [the sport] back to my home town.”
Wang – who has spent time training in China and Taiwan, and counts former Cleveland Browns wideout Corey Bridges as one of his coaches – was adamant that he wanted his club to have a unique flavor.
“We are more focused on creating a group environment, whereas I think a lot of clubs in America focus more on private lessons and one-on-one interactions,” he said. “But if you look overseas, in Europe or in Asia, their table tennis groups – it’s a group of players who come and train together, and they have a few coaches that direct them. So the coach can really walk around and see what’s going on and focus on creating a team environment.”
Despite his involvement in the training center and the timeframe of its opening – Wang says he plans on opening in the weeks following the Rio games – he isn’t worried about his burgeoning career as a businessman affecting his preparation.
“I have some partners that I’m working with,” he said. “While I’m training, they’re taking care of a lot of things so that I’m more able to focus on my own training.”
Even as the Rio Games approach, Wang keeps his eyes on the future of American table tennis. “More and more kids are getting into the sport, and it’s becoming more and more competitive at our junior level.”
He’ll have a chance to tutor the first wave of American table tennis prodigies at Rio.