World’s Borough Salutes Jennifer Wu and Tahl Leibovitz, Among First Americans to Qualify

QUEENS, NY – Borough President Melinda Katz presented Citations of Honor today to two Queens residents who are among the first Americans to qualify for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Borough President Katz welcomed table tennis players Jennifer Wu and Tahl Leibovitz to Queens Borough Hall and congratulated the pair for making the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, respectively (photo attached). The pair qualified for Rio by winning Gold Medals in Toronto, Canada this summer at the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games.

“We in Queens are so proud of Jennifer and Tahl’s accomplishments and are eagerly anticipating seeing them compete in Rio de Janeiro,” Borough President KATZ said. “Tahl and Jennifer are excellent role models for youth, and in Rio they will certainly be outstanding representatives of our country and the World’s Borough. Queens residents have the Olympic spirt and will be cheering hard for Jennifer and Tahl and all the members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams when the Rio Games begin next summer.”

Jennifer Wu (also known as Yue Wu) is a 25-year-old Flushing resident who was born in Beijing, China and who became a United States citizen this March after she fell in love with and moved to the United States in 2008. During the 2015 Pan American Games, Ms. Wu won the women’s singles table tennis title in impressive fashion by prevailing in all seven of her matches en route to capturing her Gold Medal. Her Pan Am Gold Medal victory qualified Ms. Wu to compete in women’s table tennis for the U.S. at the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held August 5-August 21 in Rio.

Tahl Leibovitz is a 40-year-old native of Haifa, Israel who moved with his family to the U.S. when he was three years old and now lives in South Ozone Park. He is one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. table tennis history and will be inducted into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame in December. He qualified for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio by winning a Gold Medal in Class 9 men’s singles table tennis in Toronto.

Mr. Leibovitz has osteochondroma, a condition characterized by noncancerous but often painful bone tumors. He had a troubled home life when he was a kid and sometimes slept in the New York City subway system when he was homeless for a time during his teenage years, as he has documented in his book “Ping Pong for Fighters.” He has overcome these obstacles to obtain a Master’s degree in Urban Affairs from Queens College and a Masters in Clinical Social Work from New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. He will soon take the exam to be a Licensed Master Social Worker with the goal of working with underserved populations, including veterans, addicts and homeless people.

Both Ms. Wu and Mr. Leibovitz began playing table tennis when they were children. Ms. Wu was 8-years-old and living Beijing when her mother introduced her to the game after a co-worker suggested that playing table tennis could help improve Ms. Wu’s poor eyesight. Mr. Leibovitz picked up a table tennis racket for the first time at the South Queens Boys and Girls Cub (now known as the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Queens) when he was 14-years-old and considers the sport to be his salvation from a rough childhood.

“I’m really happy to qualify for Rio 2016,” JENNIFER WU said. “It will be the first time that I will have represented the U.S at the Olympics, so I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games!”

“I have been playing table tennis in New York City for more than 20 years,” TAHL LEIBOVITZ said. “I am very excited to qualify for Rio 2016. New York City is a very special place for me. First picking up a table tennis racket at the South Queens Boys Club, then training at the Parks Department, then competing against the best players in the United States and finally the world; it has been such an amazing experience and a great journey.”

“As someone that was born and raised in New York City, I am so excited that with Yue and Tahl’s Gold Medal performances at the Pan Ams, the New York table tennis community will be well represented in Rio next year,” said GORDON KAYE, CEO of USA Table Tennis, the governing body for table tennis in the United States. “With so many great players across the country, their success is testament to the level of our sport in the Tri-State area. My hope is that the New York community rallies around Yue and Tahl – and all of our great athletes — as they prepare to compete for the United States in Rio next year.”

The Pan American Games are a quadrennial, international multi-sport competition involving athletes from the Americas and the Caribbean. This year’s Pan American Games also marked the starting point of a year-long qualification process in which more than 500 athletes are expected to qualify to be on the 2016 United States Olympic Team that will compete in 28 sports in Rio.

As of late October only 14 athletes nationwide (including Ms. Wu) had qualified to be on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, although several hundred more will do so over the next few months as more qualifying competitions are held for the various Olympic sports.

The Parapan American Games are a multi-sport event held every four years following the Pan American Games. Its participants are athletes from the Americas and the Caribbean who have physical disabilities and it serves as a regional qualifying event for the Paralympics, a multi-sport event for athletes from around the world who have physical disabilities. The next Paralympics will be held in Rio from September 7-18, 2016.

The Rio Games will be the first Olympics appearance for Ms. Wu and the fifth Paralympics appearance for Mr. Leibovitz, who won a Gold Medal in Class 7 in 1996 and a Bronze Medal in Class 9 in 2004. In the Paralympics table tennis competitors are divided into classes, with Class 9 players having some of the least severe physical limitations and Class 1 players having the most severe limitations.