Hazinskis find love, Olympic dreams at Texas Wesleyan University

Jun 16 2011 - 5:15pm

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Mark and Sara Hazinski do everything together. If the couple isn't playing table tennis, or studying other players on the Internet, they are watching a movie, studying or hanging out together.

The Texas Wesleyan students might not know what to do next summer if Mark makes the U.S. Olympic Team, as expected, and competes in London. Sara also is good enough to earn a spot in the 2012 Games, but she isn't yet a U.S. citizen.

Sara, whose maiden name is Shu Fu, is a Chinese national who moved to the U.S. in 2005 to play and coach. She will fulfill citizenship requirements shortly after the 2012 Olympics and hopes to compete for Team USA in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Competing in the Olympics, I think it's like every player's dream," Sara, 24, said. "So unfortunately, (I can't compete in 2012). But I would love (Mark) to represent America. That is such an honor. Hopefully, he can make it this time. It will be his second time."

Mark tied for 17th with doubles partner Ilija Lupulesku in the 2004 Games in Athens, and he narrowly missed qualifying for the '08 Games. Hazinski remains one of the top players in North America and, having won the national team trials this year, will represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games in October.

"He is, in a way, No. 1 in the U.S.," said Texas Wesleyan coach Jasna Rather, who competed in four Olympics, two for the U.S., and won a bronze for her native Yugoslavia in the 1988 Games in South Korea.

"The thing is: Every tournament gets played out differently. In Trials, there's lots of pressure for everybody. I think his experience and having already been in an Olympics, maybe there will be less pressure for him than for other players. His chances are very high (to make the Olympic team next year), but you never know."

To qualify for the Olympics, Hazinski will have to finish in the top three in the U.S. Trials. Then, he has to finish in the top three at the North American Trials. Only three North Americans advance to the Olympics, and Hazinski recently beat the top Canadian, Pierre-Luc Hinse.

So what else is new?

The Hazinskis have run out of space in their one-bedroom apartment for their trophies. Some of their awards are in the living room. Others are stored in a closet.

It's much the same for the Texas Wesleyan team. Seven banners hang inside the gymnasium, celebrating the team's first seven national team championships. The trophy case in the hallway is full.

Texas Wesleyan won six of seven titles this year, including the team title. It finished second in women's doubles, losing in the final.

The school has won 47 national championships in the sport in the past 10 years, including eight co-ed team titles. Rather gets the best players, which is how Mark and Sara ended up in Fort Worth.

Mark got his start at an after-school program at his elementary school in Indiana. Soon after, he began training under Viktor Tolkachev at the South Bend Tennis Club. At 15, he became the youngest player to make the U.S. men's national table tennis team.

Hazinski, 26, played professionally in Europe for three years before arriving at Texas Wesleyan, where he is a senior sports science major.

"Jasna and I played on the national team together," Hazinski said. "They were looking for a new player, and I was wanting to go to school. She offered me a scholarship, and it was the perfect situation for me. I could still play table tennis and get an education at the same time."

His relationship with Sara was love at first serve.

Sara started playing in China when she was 7 and came to the U.S. in 2005 to coach a table tennis club in San Jose, Calif. Two years later, Rather recruited Sara to Texas Wesleyan.

"The first week here, I met Mark," said Sara, a sophomore accounting major. "We started talking to each other and found out we have a lot of things in common. Then, we started dating."

The couple married in December 2008.

Rather said Sara would be a lock for the 2012 Olympics if she were already a U.S. citizen.

"She's clearly the No. 1 player," Rather said. "It's very sad that her citizenship will not come (before the Olympics). Otherwise, it would be much easier for her than (it will be) for Mark to qualify. She is very good, beating all the guys around these tournaments where you compete against guys. She is beating them all."

Even Mark, depending on who you believe. Sara claims Mark is better than her at table tennis. Mark says Sara is better.

"I think she lets me win most of the time," Mark said with a smile.

Either way, it is a win-win.

From Around the Web

  +