In a rich and storied competitive table tennis career spanning more than 60 years there are very few tournaments both domestically and internationally Alan Tomlinson has not tasted.
Yet the octogenarian ping pong ace admits he will be set for a new experience when he hopes to make his World Masters Games debut when the multi-sports festival hits his native city of Auckland in 2017.
Since first picking up a table tennis bat aged 14 at All Saints Church Hall in Ponsonby, the former delivery agent for the NZ Herald was been enamoured with the sport.
“I was very keen,” he says of his early experiences with the game. “I started reading about the top players and watching the top Auckland players.”
Alan quickly proved a skilled performer and went on to enjoy a distinguished career in the game, winning four New Zealand singles titles, 12 Auckland singles crowns and making four World Championship appearances between 1961 and 1971.
Yet he has little hesitation in identifying his career highlight - his defeat of the then world No.2 Ichiro Ogimura of Japan on a memorable night at the Peter Pan Ballroom on Queen Street in Auckland in 1957.
“It was certainly my most spectacular win,” says Alan. “I never beat him again, but it was just sensational. The whole place was absolutely packed.”
The 80-year-old grandfather has subsequently gone on to enjoy success as a masters player winning national titles and appearing in international tournaments.
Still playing the game once a week, Alan competed in May’s World Veterans Championships in Auckland - where he was narrowly defeated in the quarter-finals of the 80-84 age group by the eventual winner – and he is looking forward to the prospect of competing at the 2017 World Masters Games.
“At the moment I’m in excellent health and mobile, so I feel I have quite a good chance (of competing) and judging by how I went at the World Vets I will have quite a good chance (of performing well) in my age group (80+),” adds Herne-Bay based Alan.
“As we saw with the World Veterans Championships, Auckland has some amazing facilities. I’m sure we’ll also see that the World Masters Games will be played in a tremendous atmosphere and everyone will enjoy the event whatever their standard.”
As an aside Alan is a prodigious trivia player, who ten years ago scooped a bumper $250,000 in the popular game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He says his excellent memory and ability to soak up facts helps keep him alert when playing table tennis.
But can he articulate just why he has had such a deep held passion for his sport?
“I got into table tennis because I found it very accessible to play. I enjoyed the competitive spirit of the game and the sport just seemed to fit me,” he adds.