The World Team Championship will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in a few weeks in Marseille. Only four countries have been crowned during that time: Australia, Pakistan, England (previously Great Britain) and Egypt. Today we put the spotlight on four players, one from each of these nations. Players who have never been individual world champions and are not the best ever in their country, but who nevertheless had a fantastic career and are part of the event's history. Let's go back in time ...
By Jérôme Elhaïk
Pakistani Qamar Zaman is the only one among these four players to have been world number 1. He occupied that spot for two periods of time (February 1975-January 1976 and January-December 1981). The pinnacle of his career is without a doubt his victory at the 1975 British Open, and there could have been many others if he had not clashed against two of the best squash players ever: Geoff Hunt and Jahangir Khan, whom he lost numerous major finals to (World Championship and British Open).
After a superb run in juniors (World Champion and two British Open titles), England's Simon Parke belonged to the world top 10 from 1995 to 2001, with a peak to 3rd in 2000. The highlight of his career was his title as the 1999 US Open, where he beat world number 1 and 2 - Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power – each time 15-13 in the fifth game. A few weeks later, he reached the semi-finals of the British Open.
Runner-up of the World Junior Championship in 1994, Egyptian Omar El Borolossy remained in the world top 30 from 1999 to 2004, which was his best year (14th in the rankings). He clinched 14 titles on the tour but perhaps the highlight of his individual career was his quarterfinal in the Al-Ahram World Series in his home country, after he'd beaten world number 3 David Evans in the first round.
Australia's Paul Price was a top 10 member from the end of 2000 until the beginning of 2002, with a peak at 4th in the rankings. During this time, he was a semi-finalist at the Tournament of Champions and above all runner-up at the British Open, where he beat world number 3, a certain Simon Parke.
These four players belong to the history of the Men's World Team Championship, which they won once or several times. What are their most striking memory from the event?
The 80s were the golden era for Pakistan, who won the WTC four times in a row. Qamar Zaman was part of the team in 1981, 1983 and 1987, every time alongside Jahangir Khan. “We had a very strong team back then,” he said to us, “in fact we did not lose a single match during that decade. I especially remember the finals against Australia in 1981 and England in 1983.”
Although Simon Parke won the WTC in 1995 and 1997 with England, his most vivid memory from the event goes back to 1989 in Singapore, “where I broke the record for youngest ever England International at 17. We came third that year. Australia beat Pakistan in a final involving a few legends: Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, Chris Dittmar and Rodney Martin. I learnt a lot from these four...”.
Jahangir Khan and Rodney Martin are among the legends who inspired Simon Parke (Photo credit: squashmad)
Omar El Borolossy says he “was lucky and honored to represent Egypt in 2 World Junior Championships (1992 and 1994 when we won the title for the first time ever) as well as 5 World Team Championships (from 1993 to 2001). My main memories are all positive. Lots of stress, responsibility, patriotism, adrenalin rush before each match, and for sure lots of media coverage and positive support and attention in the events held in Egypt.”
Paul Price was “fortunate enough” to feature in 3 WTCs, and he won in 2001 and 2003. “It was pretty special.” he says. “I guess the memories are more about the emotion that playing for Australia brought me. I had great teammates and I remember that feeling that we all wanted to play and perform for each other. Winning the title at home in Melbourne was a great thrill as my family and friends were there.”
These four players have one thing in common: when they won the WTC, either it was the first ever title for their country, or it had been a long time since the last gold medal. Were the expectations high, and did it have an impact for the growth of the sport in their country?
Pakistan had won only one title before the one in 1981. Three others will follow, and this victory will be the beginning of a more than 15-year long golden era for the country. During this time, Jahangir and Jansher Khan (who are not related) will win countless major titles. The former was 18 years old in 1981 and the WTC title was his biggest achievement at the time.
Great Britain won twice at the end of the 70s. Then England started playing separately from 1981, and had not won yet in 1995 when the WTC was held in Egypt. “But we had always been strong," Simon Parke confides, "and all those legends (barring Jansher) had now retired. So there may have been some expectations on us but we also had a lot of confidence. The team back then was Del Harris, Mark Chaloner (making his England debut), Mark Cairns (who had stepped in for Peter Marshall) and myself. It was in Cairo but the only Egyptian superstar at that time was Ahmed Barada, so we ended up facing Pakistan in the final. Del Harris won a crucial first match, then I unfortunately faced Jansher Khan at his peak, the only match I lost all week. So the decider was complete rookie Chaloner nicknamed Chip against Mir Zaman Gul who had been up to 7 in the world rankings and was a very tricky player. Chip went 2-0 up quite comfortably like a seasoned campaigner but then the third got to 9-all (we were playing old school english scoring back then). It went hand out 9-all back and forth for what seemed to be like forever, and the nerves on the bench were palpable. Finally, Chip went into the back backhand and managed to play the most audacious, ambitious reverse boast I've ever seen to win the match and the prestigious World Team title for the first time ever for England. We were so happy and elated, we all ran on to court to celebrate, the coaches, the players, everyone together in victory, it was an amazing feeling...... In terms of impact in England, we did feature in some of the broadsheets that week and squash did get some good coverage from it in England, so hopefully that win went some way in securing future Lottery deals for squash.”
For Omar El Borolossy (top left, with teammates Amr Shabana, Amr Wagih and Ahmed Barada), the World Team Championship title in 1995 is the biggest moment of his career (Photo credit: squashpics)
Four years later, the WTC was back in Cairo. “The expectations were to reach the semis,” says Omar El Borolossy, “but no one imagined we could win it. I was lucky and honored to play the deciding match in the final, and to win (author's note: against David Evans from Wales, who had caused a massive upset in the semis beating England). Offering the title to Egypt at home, in front of all my family and friends, and live on national television, is definitely the best moment of my career.”
After four gold medals in the first ten events, Australia hadn't won for ten years when they hosted the WTC in 2001. “We didn’t feel any outside expectations,” Paul Price says, “but I remember we were extremely focused as a team on winning the title. I think being at home always gives you that little extra reason why to step up.” As far as impact goes, “it definitely helped raise the profile. I think it gave the younger players a great vision to aspire towards. I remember events like that were incredibly inspiring and motivating for me, so I would imagine it would have done the same for others.”
How do they rank their titles in team events compared to individual ones?
While Omar El Borolossy put his two World team gold medals “before any individual title,” Qamar Zaman says “all titles, whether they are in team or individual events, are important.” Simon Parke also ranks “(his) two World Team titles as equal to perhaps my US Open win in 1999. The one in 95 was really special because it was the first time we'd ever done it, but to back it up and defend the title in KL 97 was also amazing. Squash is normally such an individual sport and can be quite lonely, which is why I love team events: you have all the support of your teammates, the coaches and the back room staff, all cheering for you. It's a great feeling, especially when you win!"
Del Harris, Simon Parke and Peter Marshall before their departure for the 1997 WTC, where they will held the title won two years before (Photo credit: gettyimages - John Marsh)
Paul Price insists once again on the pride to represent his country.” “Playing for Australia and winning those titles always remains at the top of my achievement list”, he says. “In sport, there’s is no greater privilege than playing for your country and I’m so grateful for those opportunities. To win some titles for Australia with a great group of guys makes it that much more special.”
Paul Price (second from the left) with his teammates (Anthony Ricketts, David Palmer, Joseph Kneipp) for this second World Team Championship title in 2003 in Vienna (Photo credit: squash-u-Bild.net)
What have they been doing since they retired from the professional tour? Are they still playing squash?
Since his retirement, Qamar Zaman has been very involved with his Federation, and he's currently Advisor to the President of the PSF. In addition, he very recently decided to enter into politics. As far as he is concerned, Simon Parke is currently “coaching at the Chapel Allerton club in Leeds whom I also play for in the Yorkshire Premier League every Wednesday (we are the current champions). I also do a little coaching at the University of Leeds and am a regular SquashTV commentator.” Omar El Borolossy is also involved into coaching: he launched his academy “in 2005. It is now the biggest one in the world, with 5 branches and more than 1500 players from all age groups. I still play Masters events: I won two British Open titles and one World Championship title in over 35.” “My wife and I moved back to Australia 3 years ago,” says Paul Price, “and I have been running squash programs out of my courts under Inspired Peak Performance Squash. I have just been appointed National Coach and Head of Performance with Squash Australia which I’m thrilled about. Outside of that we have just opened the first of two F45 Fitness studios in downtown Melbourne which is also an exciting project to be involved with working with some awesome people. I don’t play anymore but I have been doing a lot of running the last few years and F45 workouts.”
Whether as a coach, a commentator or an official, all these former players are still very much involved in their sport (Photo credits: Chapel Allerton Lawn Tennis Club / El Borolossy Squash Academy / WSF World Juniors / Squash Australia)
Will they be attending the WTC in Marseille? And what are their predictions for the event?
Qamar Zaman will not be in Marseille, but he still follows squash “closely. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the team is of course not as strong as it used to be, but I hope they will get the best possible result.” Omar El Borolossy says he probably “won't attend either. Predictions? I expect Egypt and France to face in the final, and I hope Egypt will win (he laughs).” Unlike Zaman and El Borolossy, Simon Parke and Paul Price will be in the south of France in a few weeks, with good reason. The Englishman will be commentating for Squash TV. “The other reason why I am really looking forward to the WTC is because there will be so much quality from all around the world on display, including 100 players from 24 nations. Obviously the focus will be on the home nation France who are deservedly the current European champions, finally beating England in the final. They have Gaultier, Castagnet, Marche against the likes of Matthew, Willstrop, Selby and of course Egypt will be favourites turning out Shorbagy, Ashour, Farag and Gawad, a team full of top level winners (author's note: team lineups have not been announced at the time of writing). Obviously I would love to see another England win, it gets increasingly more difficult as time goes by, but that is the wonderful challenge of this great event. See you in Marseille!”
Simon Parke (on the right), alongside his comrade Joey Barrington, whom he commentates major tournaments on Squash TV with (Photo credit: Mikphotos)
As we mentioned earlier, Price has recently been appointed as Australia's national coach and is “really looking forward to the WTC in Marseille. The event obviously is extremely tough but I know our boys are gunning for a great result.” (author's note: seedings have not been released, but based on players' rankings and past results Australia should be seeded 4).