Filip Ilijevski brought all the right tools to the Canada Winter Games table tennis gym Saturday at Duchess Park secondary school.
He had his tournament-tested eyes picking up the spin of the ball off his opponents' racquets, his head inches away from the table. His hand held his racquet in a velvet grip, moving it on a swivel to create unreturnable volleys and lunging rally-killing smashes.
And he had his cell phone to devise medal-winning strategies in pre-match discussions with his father and table tennis mentor, Borce Ilijevski.
For all his efforts competing for Team Ontario in a grueling six-day competition, the 16-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., was rewarded with three gold medals, winning the male singles, male doubles and team championships.
'"This is about as good as it gets," said Ilijevski. "Coming here, I was hoping I would do alright but this has definitely exceeded expectations.
"Winning singles is the biggest event, it's just you out there. B.C. has a very loud crowd but once you're in the match all that goes away and you're just focused on what's coming ahead. You have to approach the game with a fearless mentality or else it's going to be really tough to handle all the pressure."
Having his dad watching the matches live on webcasts helped Ilijevski pick out weaknesses in his opponents. Drawing on six years of experience in the game, he was able to change his tactics when the need arose.
"My father is a former junior player from Macedonia and would tell what to do, usually before every match," Ilijevski said. "He's the one who gives me that guidance and encouragement. He's well-aware how everyone plays."
Ilijevski's most satisfying win came in the final match of the tournament when he swept Michael Lao of Burnaby in the singles championship 3-0 (11-2, 11-2, 11-6). Ilijevski tuned out the pro-B.C. crowd and totally dominated, catching the 16-year-old Lao off-guard in one of his worst matches of the week.
It started ominously for Lao when he swung and missed the first serve Ilijevski sent his way. That was sign of things to come for Lao, who had trouble all match hitting into the net and was unable to find his rhythm.
"For sure it wasn't my best game, it wasn't my day," said Lao. "Mentally I was a little discombobulated out there, just frustrated. I have to give credit to Filip, he definitely changed his game up and surprised me quite a bit and I had a bad match."
Lucas Wong if Alberta won male singles bronze, defeating Moxi Guo of Ontario 3-0 (11-2, 11-2, 11-6)
Earlier in the day, Ilijevski teamed up with Guo to defeat Frank Liao and Mike Yue of Vancouver 3-2 (7-11, 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 11-6) in the male doubles gold medal match.
Amy Nichols of Brampton. Ont., won the female singles title with a 3-1 (9-11, 13-11, 11-7, 11-9) victory over Ivy Liao of Vancouver. Alicia Cote of Quebec won bronze. Nichols, 16, was able to put aside any negative thoughts after losing the first game to gain the advantage over her 13-year-old opponent.
"I thought after I lost the first game, it was only by two points, I still have a chance - I was a little panicked at first but then I thought, she's just like me," said Nichols.
Cote claimed singles bronze over Jean Fei of Ontario, winning 3-0 (11-7, 11-7, 11-8).
Nichols also captured silver in mixed doubles with partner Xuebo Li, losing by just two points to Alicia Cote and Chen Ming Mo of Quebec, who took the match 3-2 (11-6, 11-9, 4-11, 8-11, 13-11). Nichols also shared the team gold medal. Fei and Justina Yeung of Ontario won the female doubles title 3-2 (9-11, 11-9, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8) over the B.C. team of Liao and Natasha Carr-Harris of Vancouver.