Jean-Michel Saive, the greatest Belgian player in the history of table-tennis, has decided to hang up his racket permanently at the age of 49. His 35-year career was long, fraught, but prolific. The Liege resident retired from the international stage on the 3rd of December 2015, but continued to play at the Logis Auderghem club. He will play his last interclub match against Etoile Basse Sombre at 8pm on the 9th of May, at the Auderghem sports centre.
“I always said I would prefer to knowingly do one more year than I really should have rather than stop a year early: that way I could have no regrets”, he told RTBF. “I’ve done the extra year. I’m less motivated now and have less time to train. I badly sprained my ankle and took a long time to recover. I gave it everything. It’s time to move on to something else”.
“I’ve had an incredible career: it was extremely long, with a lot of passion and energy behind the table and a lot of communication with the public. I’m very happy and can look back contently”.
After becoming European champion in Birmingham 25 years ago, Mr Saive became world number one (between the 9th of February 1994 and the 8th of June 1995) that same year. After participating in seven Olympic Games between 1988 (the year table tennis became part of the games) and 2012, he beat the Belgian record set by shooter François Lafortune. He was chosen as flagbearer for the 1996 and 2004 the opening ceremonies.
“Jean-Mi” became Belgian champion at the age of 15 in 1984, after earning his first international selection at 13. He remained the uncontested Belgian number one for 30 years.
Mr Saive made table tennis popular in Belgium. He notched up top performances and titles as an individual (European Top 12, world vice-champion) and as part of a team (Belgium Championship, European Cups, World Club Championship with Villette Charleroi, double world vice-champion and 3rd in the European championship with Belgium).
He received the National Sports Merit Trophy and was named Belgian athlete of the year in 1991. He was also awarded a World Fair-Play diploma in 1988.
As he is passionate about his sport, he has become involved with sports management authorities over the last few years, including the Belgian and European Athletes Commission (COE) and the Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee (COIB).
He is currently the vice-president of the management committee at the COIB. Mr Saive applied to become president of the international table tennis federation, while continuing to play with his club Logis, which he joined in 2012. He has helped them win four titles and five national cups since his arrival.
It is a safe bet that on the 9th of May he will be at 1690 Chaussée de Wavre in Auderghem: 500 guests will be there to toast a Belgian legend.