By Sportswriter Zhang Rongfeng
TIANJIN, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- As a retired reporter from the most famous Italian sports newspaper, La Gazetta dello Sport, 63-year-old Gennaro Bozza has come to China for the 64th time to cover the table tennis events here at the Chinese National Games.
After 27 years working for La Gazetta, Bozza exceeds even some veteran Chinese reporters in terms of his knowledge about the sport and the Chinese team.
"Two years ago, I retired from my newspaper. Even if I don't write, I come and I watch because I like it. That's the most important thing," said Bozza, who has never missed a single Chinese national championship since 1997 and has covered all the world championships since 1989.
"Even if nobody cares about it, I still come. I'm giving the photos to my friend to post on a blog. I'm offering the photos to ITTF to post on website. All for free. If anyone wants articles, I write. Newspapers, sometimes Chinese newspapers will ask me for a report. I write in English, then they translate it into Chinese," said the Italian.
For almost all of his travels to attend table tennis events in China and other places, Bozza has to pay for the accommodation himself. "My boss did not care about table tennis and would pay nothing for my travels," Bozza said looking back on his days in La Gazetta dello Sport.
"Always I pay on my own except for three times when my newspaper covered my expenses. I'v covered all the world championships since 1989. In world championships, I can publish reports on my newspaper, but I have to pay all the expenses myself. Because the newspaper does not care about table tennis, if you want to go, you pay yourself, then you write the article, my boss will only pay the article," he explained.
Bozza also boasts his collections of photos of Chinese players.
"Back to 2002 Chinese national championships, I took photos of all the 250 newcomers among the 550 players, everyone! When the tournament closed, I found my legs had been swollen," said Bozza. "That's the first time I saw Ma Long (men's world No. 1 and Grand Slam winner) and Ding Ning (women's world No. 1 and Grand Slam winner). I have every Chinese player's pictures since 1997 national championships. I guess totally it's about 8,000 players," he added.
Bozza has even decorated his home like a miniature Chinese museum and his collections range from Chinese drawings, Peking Opera face masks to small-sized Terra-Cotta Warriors, Chinese dolls and porcelains. Chinese styled gadgets and ornaments are all over his rooms.
Among all his items, he values two cups and one medal the most for they were given to him by Zhang Yining, two-time women's singles Olympic champion. "These two cups are from Zhang Yining in the Croatia Open. It's 2005 or 2006, one time she won the gold and the other time she won the silver. This gold medal from the national championships in Zhenjiang in 2003, she won the gold and she gave it to me," Bozza said, pointing to a picture taken at his home.
"I have known Zhang since 1997, for 20 years. I saw her in Tianjin at the qualifications of the National Games, so I took photos, but we didn't meet and we didn't talk. When she's in the final in Jiading, Shanghai, in the National Games, I talked to her for the first time," he recalled.
Bozza, a graduate in engineering, has found his true love not in his chosen academic field but on the table tennis court. This is how he explains his great devotion to the sport and to the Chinese team.
Bozza's love for table tennis originated from his experience as a player. In his words, he's a "serious" player, not just hobbiest. "I played table tennis when I was very young, at 14, in Italy, but I was not a good player, not good enough for national team. As a hobby? No, I played table tennis seriously, though not professionaly of course, I played national leagues and tournaments in the 1970s in Italy," he remembered.
"I'm not a stupid player, but not in the level of a national team. I had played for about ten years, then I quit when I started university and other things, it's impossible to continue in Italy, the I just followed up to watch the championships and games," said Bozza.
He also noted that his hobby of following table tennis has been a costly one, but said it had all been worthwhile.
"For me, table tennis is No. 1, more than football. I do not know how much I have spent so far in covering table tennis tournaments. I think the last two years from my retirement, I spend another 20,000 euros. Going back all these years since 1989, I think the total amounts to 230,000-250,000 euros, mainly (spent) on traveling to China."
Bozza now lives on his pension, which is about 45,000 euros a year, so he can continue to support his devotion to table tennis.