• Id: 44158

Madeira puts Table Tennis on the map in Portugal

Marcos Freitas
Marcos Freitas helped Portugal beat France in the Baku 2015 team final. Francois Nel/Getty Images
Freitas, from the same island as Ronaldo, helped team to gold in Baku

They are both sporting champions from the island of Madeira. They have both been nominated as Portuguese athlete of the year multiple times.

But when it comes to being famous, the comparison ends.

Real Madid star Cristiano Ronaldo, the three-time World Footballer of the Year, is one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.

Marcos Freitas, who helped Portugal win gold in Table Tennis team event at Baku 2015, is rather less well known.

However, the 27-year-old has already done his bit to make his sport more popular at home.

Despite the island having only 267,000 inhabitants, Freitas said: "Between 2002 and 2008, five out of 10 teams from the Portuguese first league were from Madeira."

But the sport was not particularly popular in Portugal in those days.

Although he was junior European champion in 2002, Freitas was wondering if he should pursue a professional career in a sport that did not attract any attention from the Portuguese public.

Then, aged 16, he was among 400 young athletes invited to a youth camp ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

"It was the best holiday of my life," he said. "We had our own little Olympic village. Many athletes I met there went on to win Olympic medals in 2008, in swimming, judo. It really motivated me to work hard and become successful in table tennis."

Freitas became the most prolific table tennis player Portugal had ever seen, reaching no.8 in the world earlier this year and reshaping the public image of the sport in his country.

"It's not only me," he was quick to say. "The entire men's team is responsible for the growth: Tiago Apolonia, Joao Geraldo, Joao Monteiro. There's six to seven players from Portugal that are making a difference."

Even Ronaldo has taken notice. When the table tennis players do well, they usually get a message from the football superstar.

"This time he hasn't sent us anything yet, but I'm sure he will do so," said Freitas.


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