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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK

From China with love

By Saj Chowdhury
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

When Jing Yi Gao made the long trip from China to Northern Ireland seven years ago, she had one aim.

Coming from a table-tennis mad nation she was determined to spread her love for the sport all around her adopted home.

Jing, who is competing for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, told BBC Sport Online why she made the decision to make the bold move.

"There was a coach who had arrived from Northern Ireland, visiting my area," she said.

"I used to play professionally for a provincial team, although by that time I had retired - basically I was stuck at a loose end.

"I had always been interested in going abroad in order to teach table tennis so I spoke to the visiting coach and he persuaded me to choose Northern Ireland."

Jing arrived in 1995 and is now very much settled in her new home, so much so that her accent has a slight Northern Irish twang.

The 34-year-old added that the next step in her plans is to bring more players from China to Northern Ireland in order to take the sport to a new level.

"I'm hoping to expand the game over here," she said.

"It would also be nice to bring some players from my home country over here, perhaps as a part of a cultural exchange programme.

"We've already brought Chinese players over the past couple of years during the summer and that's been really successful, but I'm hoping to take that one step further.

Jing has no immediate plans of moving back to China having fallen in love with her new surroundings.

"The people are brilliant in Northern Ireland, and I actually don't mind the cold weather."

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