Olympic Games | 15 Jul 2021
FREITAS: Winning an Olympic medal makes you immortal
Marcos FREITAS has been the backbone of Portugal's success in recent years. He played at his first Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and he reached the quarterfinal in the Team's Event four years later in London. The men's team with FREITAS, João GERALDO and Tiago APOLONIA clinched gold in June 2015, when he competed in the inaugural European Games. In 2016, once again he reached the quarterfinal at the Olympics, but in Rio it was in the Singles Event.
Once again he will be on duty this summer at the Olympic Games in Japan.
"We did not have a lot of chances to play in the past few months. I was only in Qatar for two tournaments. Unfortunately I was not playing very well; I was struggling to find my rhythm. The main reason for that was the absence of the tournaments and competitions. I had a lot of practice, but it is not the same. I was not able to put my game on the table instantly in Qatar. Of course, every tournament is good experience and I took the opportunity to learn from my weak points there and to prepare better for the next challenges," explained FREITAS. "We all yearn for more competitions and tournaments, but we must take what we have. "
You have already prepared for one Olympics and I wonder how the preparations under the new pandemic circumstances changed the previous strategies? What is different compared to your previous experience?
"Everything is going normal. By that, I did not mean we have our usual routine as we used to for previous editions of the Olympics, but the most important part is that the team was together and that we worked together in our national center in Porto. Only a few foreign players were allowed to be in Porto, but still they made the atmosphere more competitive and I am satisfied the way we managed the preparations. The biggest challenge was to find the way to create the pressure that we feel only at the tournaments. The primary task was and still is to stay healthy and without injures before the Olympics," added FREITAS.
Five years after Rio 2016 is a long period, how different are you now, privately and concerning your career?
"I feel very similar comparing the period before the Rio: the motive and the desire are there. I am always the same. I want to practice as much as possible, to improve myself and my game. I have not changed that much. My aim is to play at the top level and I want to stay in this game for few more years because it is still fun for me to play. I reached the quarterfinals in Rio, eventually finished at the position no. five. I will be very happy if I could repeat that result in Tokyo. I am also aware it will be extremely difficult to achieve that goal because I do not think I will be seeded among the top 16 players."
It will be your fourth appearance at the Games; what are your memories from the first Games?
"I remember very well when I qualified at the World Qualifications in Budapest for my first Games in Beijing. It was big surprise for me. I knew I was good, I knew I had already reached the high level of quality in my game, but I was still very young, only 20 years old then. It was great achievement, not for me, but also for Portugal, because no one ever did it before in table tennis. A lot of people did not believe it was possible and in 2008 we put a great milestone in our sport. "
In Beijing 2008 it was the right place to be if you are the table tennis player.
"Everything was new and impressive for me in China 2008. The Olympic Village is very big and the atmosphere is something special, in addition playing the table tennis tournament at the Olympics on China's soil was also a unique experience. There were a lot of spectators and the interest for the competition was big."
Between two Games the aims went higher. FREITAS won the bronze medal in the men's doubles at the European Championship with Tiago APOLÓNIA in 2008 and in 2011 European Championships he went on to win the gold medal with Andrej GAĆINA.
"Things were different for London. I was already established as a player and I set the goals much higher. As a team we were very strong and we had very good chances. We were very close to beating South Korea. Despite the 2:3 defeat in the quarters we realize that we could play for medals in near future. That gave us a strong motive to keep on working hard."
The team and FREITAS' ranking improved further and before Rio he was seeded as no. 8.
"I beat Oividiu IONESCU of Romania and KOU Lei of Slovakia before I reached the quarterfinals in Rio. Unfortunately, Jun MIZUTANI halted my progress with a 4:2 win. However, I was very happy with my performance and I am sorry I could not go further, but it left me hungry for more. It strengthened my motive and desire to work harder."
A true fan of the sport, FREITAS always used the opportunity to watch other athletes after he finished his participation at the Olympics.
"I always tried to watch some games; to see up close the best athletes in the world and to learn something new, but primarily I went to other venues to cheer and support Portugal's athletes. It is sad that I will not be able to do it in Japan, because we will all leave after the end of our competition, but that is the way to stay safe and protected. I respect all the efforts the organizers are putting in order to successfully organise such big event. Our safety is most important."
Who comes first to your mind when you think of the biggest Olympic achievements?
"It is Michael FELPS, Usian BOLT...then I think about ZHAG Jike, Ma LONG, because I watched them winning in my sport. Winning a medal, especially gold, in table tennis is enormous achievement. After clinching the gold you become immortal. Everyone will remember your achievement and respect you. It is great honor to be at the Olympics and represent your country."