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Welsh table tennis whiz kid, 11, set to train in China

Anna Hursey, 11, is set to make Commonwealth Games history this week when the pint-sized Welsh table tennis player hopes to punch above her weight and win a medal.

Anna, who first picked up a bat at five, will become the youngest athlete to represent Wales at the Games.

The 1.60m Cardiff schoolgirl is a tenacious competitor, having already broken records by appearing at last year's European championships.

She is believed to be the youngest athlete, of any nationality, ever to compete at the quadrennial event.

Wales coach Stephen Jenkins predicts a bright future for Anna, who trains four to six hours a day and wakes up early to go running before school.

"She can be top 50 in the world if she wants it," he said.

"If she keeps that desire to want to be a top player, she can go a long way."

To reach her potential, Anna is likely to go on regular training trips to China, birthplace of her mother Phoebe.

Anna experienced a baptism of fire on a previous visit to China, where she observed how Chinese coaches beat young players with bat handles to punish them for missing shots.

"It was a bit scary because if you get something wrong, they just hit you," she said.

"I felt really sorry for my friend because when she missed the ball, they'd use the bat handle to whack her hand."

But Jenkins believes China holds the key to Anna's development as she targets a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"She's definitely going to have to go back to China," he said. "We've got good training facilities in Wales but we're also limited in what we can give her.

"She has to go abroad and learn from the best, and China is so far ahead of everyone in the world."

To keep her on the straight and narrow, Anna's teammates, including Welsh No. 1 Charlotte Carey, have taken her under their wing.

"They don't want to baby her," said Jenkins.

"It's more that she's a teammate, and that's important for Anna as well - she doesn't want to be the baby.

"But the girls have been fantastic. Charlotte was in a similar position to Anna once and knows exactly what she's going through." - AFP

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