Originally published on Olympics.com by Evelyn Watta
She burst onto the scene in 2019 when she stunned the then African number two Farah Abdel-Aziz to become Egypt’s youngest ever national champion.
A year later she rose through the ranks to top the ITTF under-15 women’s world rankings, the first African and Arab player to occupy the number one spot.
The wonderkid still has all the time in her hands and she is happy to bide her time as a junior, occasionally punching above her weight and securing senior titles. Her focus is on growing and mastering the game and has no plans to fast-track her progress.
“I want to take it step by step, and just be worthy of this. Show the people that I deserve to be on this rank,” Goda told Olympics.com from her home in Cairo.
“I just want to have Egypt’s name and the Arabs’ name [up there] and make everyone happy… play good table tennis for fun.”
Hana Goda on achieving a childhood dream
Writing down her goals at the start of the season, Goda ensured the ITTF-Africa Cup in Lagos ranked high on her list. She didn’t want to just go to Nigeria and feature in the tournament, she felt ready to achieve one of her childhood dreams – be an African senior champion!
Mind you, she’s still only 14.
But after an incredible run at the 2021 African Championships last September, losing to compatriot Mariam Alhodaby in the women’s singles final, Goda felt ready to conquer the continent.
“The African Cup was so important to me. Since the beginning of the year, it was one of my goals. I always have a paper that I write all my goals, and this was like the first one I wrote,” said the budding player, who was exceptional at the under-15 level last year.
The highly-rated junior won two World Table Tennis Youth Star Contender events in the under-15 girls’ singles category, and was the runner-up in two others, cementing her position as the world’s best under-15 player.
May’s Africa Cup seemed perfect for Goda to further unlock her potential.
Whenever the teen star took her table tennis stance to serve or react to incoming shots, it was evident that what Goda lacked in experience, she made up for in confidence, talent, and admirable quick reflexes.
She was unbeaten throughout the continental event.
In the semi-final, she again upset her mentor and compatriot Dina Meshref, a six-time African champion. It was Goda’s second successive victory over her idol Meshref at the continental level. Last year, she also defeated Africa’s most successful female player in the last four.
“When Dina and I played in the semi-final (in Lagos) it was like, ‘whoever wins this match will win this tournament’. Because we had both won against the Nigerian easily before. And the final turned out to be easy,” she remembers of her 4-0 victory in straight games over Nigeran Fatima Bello to secure the African title.
She continued: “Winning made such a huge difference, it meant like literally everything for me…it made me [move up to] 33 in the world from 42.
”[I remember] telling everyone, my brother…I am going to play now, pray for me…Telling the coaches, OK, we have to focus because this is the most important thing.”
The Egyptian star is taking ‘it step by step’
The top-ranked African player in the world rankings is just getting started. Despite being the world’s number one player in both the under-15 and -17 classes, she’s wary of the hype surrounding her rise, showing a maturity beyond her years.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Ok, I want to be number one in the world tomorrow!’ This will not make sense. I want to go step, step, step by step. If you go like a leap, you can fall,“ said Goda, who started competing nationally when she was only six years old.
“I don’t want to put very hard expectations on me. I want to play relaxed, play table tennis for fun. Because when I think about it too much, I play really bad.”
“I just want to play and what happens, happens…hopefully, good things. I hope someday at the Olympics I can get a medal.” Hana Goda to Olympics.com
Her path to the top has been quick but steady.
Speaking to Olympics.com in 2020 she looked back at her formative years. She began playing at four when the tables dwarfed her.
“People were like, ‘What is she doing? How can she play when she is the same height as the table?’ But for me, I was happy because everyone was watching.”
Her coaches had to cut the table to accommodate her.
Helping Egypt’s women triumph at 2022 Mediterranean Games
For now the Egyptian’s goal is to remain up there with the greats and play at the Olympics after experiencing Tokyo 2020 as a reserve in her country’s women’s team, which did not go past the first round.
“Since starting table tennis, I wished to go to the Olympics. It is like so important and a very big thing, and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to go to it. I always watched not only table tennis… I watched every single sport every four years at the Summer Olympics, Youth Olympics, and Winter Olympics.”
Goda, who was under-15 girls’ singles silver medallist at the 2021 World Youth Championships, recently helped Egypt’s women’s team claim the country’s first gold medal in the sport during the 2022 Mediterranean Games in Oran, Algeria.
The young table tennis superstar, who is currently ranked world number two at the under-19 level, also wants to shine at October’s Africa senior championships in Algeria and subsequently at the World Youth Championships in Tunis, Tunisia, in December.
Events that could yet again prove career-defining for Goda.