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Ding Ning: From a Specialist to an All-rounder

SEP . 14 2021
Peking University, September 14, 2021: Ding Ning, one of the most successful female table tennis players, has won countlessworld championships during her sports career. Playing table tennis since she was 5 years old, the young lady has dedicated one-third of her life to table tennis. Now, she is retired and has started her new journey as a graduate student at the Department of Physical Education, Peking University.

The turning point at PKU

"It is a hard decision to make", said Ding Ning. To pursue further study in the university after her retirement from competitive sports is a great turning point for her, which also surprises many fans of her. However, this is not an idea that comes from nowhere. Ever since she was an athlete, Ding Ning has been longing for a study tour, to explore around the world and learn new things, for the life of athletes is rather simple and monotonous. Though having been to many different countries for competitions, she did not have the opportunity to learn the varieties of local cultures and enjoy the scenery. In each journey Ding Ning could only have a short stay, traveling back and forth among arenas, hotels, and supermarkets. To study in college is a part of her dream, only that as a top athlete and team leader, the responsibility on her shoulders did not allow for it. In 2017, Ding Ning won her third World Table Tennis Championships and won the grand slam. That was the time when she got really eager to go to college. Still, considering her age and other uncertainties, the preparation for Tokyo Olympics took priority and she put off the plan for college until 2021.

Ding Ning at the 2017 World Table Tennis Championship

Ding Ning is no stranger to Peking University. She has visited PKU several times before and what impresses her the most is the openness and inclusiveness of the school, which she thinks would allow her to explore freely and develop different interests in the future. "I used to be a specialist in table tennis. Now I want to be an all-rounder in sport." For Ding Ning, to be an all-rounder in sport means that one has to learn from other related fields and communicate with like-minded people from various backgrounds. Besides the required courses of her own major, she has also selected courses of psychology and Chinese. And she keenly looks forwarded to exchanging ideas with Pekingers later.

Ding Ning giving a speech at Yuanpei College of Peking University
New Challenges

When talking about the future academic life, the world champion seems a little bit nervous and considers it a challenge. "It's just like, you grew up studying and suddenly were asked to play table tennis. You may have courage and enthusiasm. But still, you could not imagine or know what exactly it is like to be an athlete and what specific difficulties an athlete might experience, and vice versa." The sudden change of path and uncertain difficulties is only one side of her challenge, the reputation that she gained from her success is another. It is somehow a double-edged sword. The past fame brings her more help and support on the one hand, but it also attracts attention and higher requirements on the other hand.

Ding Ning on a student group discussion at PKU

Ding Ning did not step back from these challenges. On many occasions she has repeated, "Always keep a heart of bravery." As a professional athlete, Ding Ning used to struggle to live with the cruelty of competitive sports. "Waking up every day I have to face that struggle." It is bravery which supported her to gain success in table tennis and she never give it away. When faced with new challenges from the academic path, she says with a smile, "There are always more solutions than problems."

Meanwhile, Ding Ning does not simply stand on her own. She also appreciates the helps she gets from PKU's staff, including assistant professor Wu Fei and professor Liu Wei, through the help of which she gradually gets to know about this university and figures out the direction of her path.

Ding Ning at the PKU's Department of PE
Future Expectation

"I think sport is the shadow of people." A shadow is always in company with everyone. From her point of view, sport is just such a company. As we all know, participating in sports is necessary in order to keep one's body strong and healthy. But for Ding Ning, sports most importantly is a type of psychological support, which always gives people the inner energy to refresh themselves and fight again. Sports is what brings her bravery, and she hopes to bring it to more people.

During the epidemic, Ding Ning taught her family and friends how to correctly stay fit at home. It made her realize that many people do not know how to play sports properly and healthily. She hopes that in the future she can promote the education for teenagers about healthy exercise, not only with her personal experience but also rigorous theoretical knowledge. That's one of the reasons why she chooses the academic path, in this way she could put into practice what she learns from her major and benefit others.

Ding Ning with the PKU table tennis school team

Ding Ning also hopes that her choice to go back to the college itself could expand the imagination of the young generations of athletes. She knows that only a small group of people could stand at the peak of competitive sport, which should not be the only choice and goal for athletes. She wishes that the young generations could see more possibilities from her going to school after retirement and gain more opportunities.

The opportunities are also open for herself. To become an all-rounder in sport does not only mean exploring various fields, but also a road ahead without limitation. Ding Ning used to be specialized in table tennis and go for one definite goal every day, now she wants to be an explorer for an open future. She adores the freedom of PKU, which allows students to chase their own dreams.

The future is uncertain, but you can always anticipate that

This is how Ding Ning understands the PKU spirit and what it means by "freedom". We do look forward to the new school year with Ding Ning as a student of Peking University.

Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium of PKU

Table Tennis and PKU
PKU has an indissoluble tradition of table tennis. Important events have been held at PKU, including the first National Table Tennis Championships of China in 1952 and the first Chinese Table Tennis Tournament "CCTV Cup" in 1996. In 2003, PKU, together with Founder Group established the Fang Zheng club of table tennis. Later in 2008, Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium of PKU witnessed the remarkable performance of Chinese table tennis team during the Beijing Olympics. The gymnasium was in fact built specially for the Olympic table tennis games. In the years that followed, it accompanies countless Pekingers who love sports. Now Ding Ning has joined PKU as one of the freshmen, and thestory of sports at PKU will never end.

Writer: Zhu Yongxin
Editor: Amanda Hu
Photo: Ding Ning, PKU Media Center
Designer: Chin Xiao Yun Pauline