Stellan was the first Swede to win the Men’s Singles World Championships in 1971 and went on to win 3 World Championships and 7 European titles.
After training in China and studying the Chinese methods, Bengtsson developed the legendary ‘Falkenberg’ exercise which is regularly used in training halls all around the world. The exercise is brilliant as it improves footwork, blocking and looping, Stellan talks about it in some detail when answering question # 4.
There is a bronze statue of the legendary Swede in his home town of Falkenberg so his contribution to Table Tennis will be rightly, immortalised forever!
1. Can you describe how you felt when you won the match point against Shigo Itoh to become a World Champion at 18 years old and what was the initial impact on your life?
I went totally blank! It was a shock. It was the first time I won an International Mens Open title. Imagine to start with the World Championships!! The main focus as the tournament went on was ‘don’t be satisfied’. After the match point it was like popping a balloon. The Japanese Team were so graceful after the match. They were happy on my behalf.
The title changed my life. I became a public person in Sweden. It also formed me as a person. Being the World Champion you have a responsibilty to represent the sport.
2. Can you tell us 2 of the main factors that helped you reach the level in order to win a World Championships?
In 1969 I was invited to train in Japan for three and a half months. My parents allowed me to take one year off from school to go, understanding to return to school the year after… I am still off school!!…..
I got to train and play with the best Japanese players. It changed my game and attitude to the sport.
In Japan (and for the rest of my career) I was coached by Mr Ichiro Ogimura. He was a twelve times World Champion. He helped me both at the table and maybe more importantly, mentally. He was way ahead of his time in all areas of table tennis. I was a good listener and student.
3. It is rumoured, even the Chinese were scared of you, how did you develop this incredible mental strength needed to defeat many ot these players?
I trained hard AND I was prepared. I tried to give 100% on the table and when doing physical training. By doing that I could trust my preparation. I really enjoyed the challenge from the best players of the world. In all my World Championships, I played 18 matches vs Chinese players and won 12. A record I am very proud of!
4. You named the legendary ‘Falkenberg’ exercise after the town you were born in, why is this such a good drill and what skills are needed to do it well?
The Falkenberg drill has many benefits. You play both bh and fh and doing that you cover the whole table. It has the step around at the bh corner playing fh and after that you move a long way out to the fh and back with your bh.
The key is the step around. Many players are too close when they go around. That gives you problem in the wide fh. On the ball in the wide fh it is important that you move both feet to keep the distance between your feet intact to have perfect balance.
Great drill! Good luck!
5. Can you explain, in your opinion, why the top Swedish athletes have this cool, unflappable, confident persona when competing? Eg..Yourself..Waldner..Persson..Tennis: Borg, Edberg, Wilander!!!
We used to say it is in the Swedish water…. Many people have asked me that question. I think the athletes you mention all like to compete. They thrive when they are challenged. The difficult part is to be calm(smart) and still have the FIRE to win. You have to find your way to get into that stage of mind on the most important competitions.
6. How would you describe your Coaching style and what values do you encourage your players to have?
Most of my coaching is side by side. It makes the players more motivated in the process. It is a balance of being demanding and motivating. I care a lot about the basics. Many players basics are not good enough. I also put a lot of time into being mobile and fast.
I want the players to be: humble, dedicated, passionate, and to have integrity. To try to be the best you can be every day.
7. Can you tell us two important things you look for in a player?
8. The game has changed a lot over the years, what would a today’s Stellan Bengtsson have to work on to beat the likes of Ma Long and Fan Zhendong?
I would have to improve my bh topspin and be able to receive the reversed pendulum serve well. I think it is important to know why the Chinese are the best. At the moment they are physically stronger and faster then their opponents. Great balance. Also they keep the knowledge in the sport by continuing to use many of the old players as coaches.
9. Who was your favourite player to coach and why?
I have been lucky to coach a lot of great players. To pick one I have to say Jorgen Persson. Our relationship goes way beyond table tennis. I met him for the first time in a radio studio in Halmstad Sweden. He was 11 years old. He was a good listener. Always willing to train. The amount of multi balls I gave him were endless. He was stubborn on the right things. Trying to implement the tactical advice he got in matches. There was a mutual trust.
I’m glad he is coaching the Swedish team now. They are in good hands.
10. Finally, in these crazy times, have you any tips on the most productive way to practice alone or with a robot?
At these times it can be hard to think about table tennis but I would do a lot of service training. It can also be a good opportunity to improve your physical state. You don’t need a sparring partner for that. You should go into all four areas of physical. Cardio, strength, speed and flexibility.
It’s been a pleasure to interview our first World Champion and we can only say that Stellan, you are a true inspiration and we wish you all the best with your coaching in the USA.