Teenage stars lock in Olympic debuts

Milly Tapper
Melissa Tapper is headed for her third Olympics. Picture: Alex Coppel

A trio of teenagers are taking their bats to Paris after being included in the six-member Australian table-tennis team for the Olympics.

Nicholas Lum, Finn Luu and Hwan Bae will all make their Olympic debut in Paris aged just 19, joining dual Olympian and Paralympian Melissa Tapper, who is headed for her third Games, alongside 36-year-old Tokyo Olympian Michelle Bromley and 37-year-old Min Hyung Lee, who is another first-timer.

Having climbed through to the elite ranks despite still being a teen, Lum, who nearly made it to the Tokyo Games as a 16-year-old, said it was one of the “greatest feelings I’ll ever experience as an athlete” to make the team.

“Having narrowly missed out on qualifying for Tokyo, being able to bounce back from that and qualify for Paris feels so much more satisfying,” he said.

“If you had told me when I was still playing in the under-13 age group that all three of us would be competing together at the 2024 Paris Olympics, I would have just laughed. It’s so wholesome to see how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown and improved since our first matches against each other.

“From being fierce rivals at the under-13 national championships to now sharing the stage and competing at the world’s biggest sporting event, I’m just so happy and excited to share this moment with them.

Melissa Tapper is going back to the Olympics.
Melissa Tapper is going back to the Olympics.

“I love that table tennis provides an opportunity for everyone to play, whether you are young, old, born with disabilities, or just beginning to learn how to play. Table tennis, as hard as it may seem when you watch the pros play, isn’t all that difficult when it comes to having fun.

“The game is relatively easy for beginners, yet it offers a whole new game to challenge even the world’s most skilled players.”

Tapper, who made history in 2016 as the first Australian to compete in both the Paralympics and Olympics in any sport, said her goal was to get to one Games, so to get to three was beyond all expectations.

“I can’t actually believe it. The goal as a kid was to qualify for an Olympics, I now am getting to head off to my third,” she said.

“I always just want to play my best table tennis every time I step out on the court, but if I can inspire just one young girl to get active in sport or a child with a disability to believe they can be whatever they want, then that’s the real achievement.”

Tapper went undefeated through the Table Tennis Australia qualification trials to lock in her spot for Paris.


Lee said the wait for her Olympic debut was worth it.

“It’s emotional and surreal,” she said. “It took me so long to qualify for the Olympic Games, I can’t describe this feeling, just very grateful to have this opportunity.

“It took me 28 years to qualify for Olympic Games, and my parents saw the entire process for a long time. Whenever I faced tough moments, they taught me how to overcome those wisely. It gave me a lot of life lessons and made me stronger. I’m so grateful to have them on this journey as my mentors.

“At the moment, improving the quality of my game is the key goal, to play against highest level players at the Olympic Games. The Paris Games will be a completely different level of intensity, so a strong mentality will be needed.”