By Conor Hockett | BSU at the Games
Dan Seemiller knows what it’s like to be America’s best hope to dethrone the Asian dominance in table tennis.
When he was 18, Seemiller won the U.S. Team Trials and has been catapulted into the spotlight ever since.
Now 57, Seemiller is arguably one of the top three greatest U.S. table-tennis players of all time.
He’s a five-time U.S. Men’s Singles Champion, a 12-time U.S. Men’s Doubles Champion, which included eight straight titles with his brother Rick, and a former No. 19 ranked player in the world back in 1977. He even invented his own grip, named the Seemiller.
“Dan’s impact on the sport has been multi-dimensional,” said Sean O’Neill, a 2007 USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee. “As a player he set our international standard for over two decades. As the president of the organization he implemented many innovations geared at adding professionalism and player support. He took kids from the basement and helped them become members of the Olympic team.”
Despite playing competitively on-and-off for more than 40 years, there is one thing he’s never accomplished: representing the U.S. team in the Olympic Games.
Table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988 when Seemiller was 34. He tried out in 1988 but didn’t qualify. In 1992 he won the U.S. qualifier, but players must compete with Canada to represent North America in the Olympic Games. Seemiller said he didn’t play well in the continental qualifier and failed to advance.
After that, Seemiller gave up his dream. He became the U.S. National Team Coach in 1999 and stayed on until 2009. He also coached the U.S. Olympic Team in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but that wasn’t enough.
Seemiller said he didn’t play much during his coaching days and the desire came back.
“That’s why I got out of it—I wanted to start playing again,” Seemiller said. “It’s great coaching, but it’s also great playing again too. Now I can do both.”
Seemiller coaches at the South Bend Table Tennis Center just outside his home in New Carlisle, Ind. For three days in February, however, he took a break to pursue his dream.
The U.S. Olympic Trials took place in Cary, N.C. from Feb. 10-12 to decide the eight spots—four men and four women—who would represent the U.S. in the North American Trials in April.
Seemiller said he won his first two rounds in the qualifying pretty easily, but it would all come down to his next match with Razvan Cretu. It was close, but Seemiller lost four games to three and was eliminated.
“If I could have won that, I would’ve had a really good chance (to qualify),” Seemiller said. “But that was the one I needed to get through. It was do or die and that’s the way it goes. If I would have won that I would’ve been in the final 12. In the final 12, I would’ve played pretty well because most of those are young kids. So it was kind of a lot of experience (I had) against them.”
Seemiller may have missed his chance to become the first American to medal in table tennis at the Olympic Games, but he hasn’t given up hope or the drive to keep trying.
“It’s my job,” Seemiller said. “I coach kids, I run the club here (in South Bend) and I’m always involved in tournaments, so I might as well keep playing.”