Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Extraordinary career

Amarsingh to receive Latin American award


FLASHBACK: Mansingh Amarsingh in action at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain back in 1979.

Mark Fraser

Mansingh “Mano” Amarsingh has been honoured by the Dominican Table Tennis Federation for his “extraordinary athletic career representing Trinidad & Tobago”.

In a letter to Amarsingh, the federation’s president Juan Vila extended an invitation for Amarsingh to attend last month’s Latin American Championships in Dominican Republic, where the “Glory of the Latin American Table Tennis” award was to be presented to the 1978 Central American and Caribbean men’s singles champion.

In the letter, Amarsingh was described as “a true ambassador of table tennis, not only in your country, but across America.”

However, the former T&T great was unable to make the trip, and an acceptance letter was read on his behalf.

“With humble thanksgiving I accept this distinguished honour and recognition from your most esteemed organisation. It is, however, with deepest regret I must decline the invitation to travel to Santo Domingo due to previous family commitments.

“I humbly request,” Amarsingh’s letter continued, “if it is acceptable to the federation, that the award be presented to Curtis Humphreys, who is travelling with the Trinidad and Tobago team, on my behalf.

“I carry very special memories of my playing days in the Latin American region, and it is with great pride and honour I receive this esteemed award from your organisation. Thanking you most kindly.”

Vila, a former standout regional player, decided that, instead of sending the award via a third party, a representative from the federation will travel to T&T to present the award to Amarsingh on a date to be announced.

A defensive player with a sharp attack whenever given the opportunity, Amarsingh represented T&T between 1964 and 1989.

As a 17-year-old, at the 1964 Caribbean Championships, Amarsingh reached the junior and senior singles finals, losing to Barbadians Trevor Mannette and Tony Byer.

In an interview with the Express, Amarsingh looked back at some of his most treasured on-table exploits.

“Winning the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Trinidad in 1978 would stand out for many reasons. The public and a great volume of past and present stars and officials were able to see me at my best. I beat Guyana’s George Brathwaite in the final, 21-8, 21-9, 21-17.”

Amarsingh remembers his matches in great detail, and takes great pride in his victories over Nigeria’s Obi Sanya at the 1975 Asian, African and Latin American Championships in Mexico, and Jamaican Orville Haslam at the 1976 Caribbean Championships in Cuba.

“I’m the only English-speaking Caribbean player to beat Haslam,” Amarsingh reminisced. “He was a power player, and I beat him three straight in the men’s singles quarters, 21-17, 21-18, 21-14. That has to be rated a great victory. Using anti-spin rubbers, I understood how to play him. I was able to plan the game. The ball was coming back all the time, so he was becoming erratic. I lost to (T&T’s) Lionel Darceuil in the final.

“Obi Sanya,” Amarsingh continued, “was ranked somewhere in the first 50 in the world. He was the All African champion. It was a team match, and Nigeria beat us 5-2, but I beat Obi Sanya 18-21, 21-16, 21-14.”

Amarsingh emphasised that fitness was the key to his success as a table tennis player.

“If you’re hitting me with speed I would defend, but if you slow down the game I would come in and hit—quick chops and then I’d pick up my forehand. I did a lot of physical training off the table. Having good legs was very important in that kind of play. Very rare would I defend off the table. I would play close to the table, but I was off the table against Haslam because he was a fierce hitter. And Obi Sanya too.”

On many occasions, Amarsingh played unbeaten for T&T in men’s team fixtures.

“I had that distinction against many great teams over the years. It was common that I would win all three matches against the Cubans—I played unbeaten against them in two goodwill series in Trinidad in the 1970s—against the mighty Jamaicans, and Dominican Republic. We played them (Dominican Republic) in the 1982 Caribbean Championship men’s team final in Venezuela—Steve Ragbir, Hamilton Bridgeman and myself. We lost 5-4. I won all three, against Mario Alvarez, Juan Vila and Raymundo Fermin. Ragbir beat Fermin, but lost to Alvarez in the ninth match, 27-25 in the third game. We came very close to winning.”

In 1969, T&T were crowned Caribbean men’s team champions, Amarsingh, Frank Watson and Franklyn Rouse combining for a 5-4 victory over a powerful Guyana unit. Amarsingh defeated Brathwaite, Errol Caetano and Garth Isaacs, while Watson got past Brathwaite and Isaacs.

In the semifinal round, however, Amarsingh won twice as T&T emerged with a 5-4 victory over Jamaica.

“We decided to give Jamaica all three matches against Haslam,” Amarsingh explained, “and try to win five out of the other six. As a tactic we didn’t play against Haslam, conceding the matches since we knew at that time we could not beat him.”

The tactic paid rich dividends. Both Amarsingh and Watson stopped Leo Davis and Dave Foster, while Rouse got the better of Davis, the T&T trio earning a ticket to the final.

Amarsingh was high in praise for Watson.

“Frankie was a great player. His style at the time was similar to mine—quick legs and would fly in to pelt his forehand.”

Amarsingh also spoke highly of Winston “Reds” Mulligan.

“Good defence, cunning, and a strategist. You didn’t win against him until the last point.

“From 1966, up until 1982, Mulligan was a player or coach on all my tours. In ‘66, at the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Curacao, T&T won the men’s team, (Egbert) McBaptiste and I won the doubles, and Mulligan won the men’s singles.”

Asked to name his greatest local rival, Amarsingh declined. Instead, he came up with a list of six.

“Mulligan, Watson, Derek De Silva, Ragbir were outstanding. In the mid-70s, Darceuil was outstanding. Later down, I played with Dexter (St Louis) in the mid-80s. He was outstanding. I wouldn’t single out anyone because all had different styles. They all had exceptional playing ability.”