Ask Chunli Li why she is pursuing an 'impossible' Olympic dream and the answer you get might spark the soul.
The New Zealand table tennis legend turned 58 in February, but wants to be in Tokyo next year, for her fifth Games.
Her improbable mission is partly driven by some lingering regrets, especially around Athens in 2004, and one last push for the podium.
"I've been four times and I've never won a medal," Chunli tells the Herald. "That's always been my dream, so I want to try again."
But there is a deeper purpose, a sense of discovery about this quest to crash the Olympics party as an (almost) pensioner.
"I really want to know, for the human, especially myself, how long I can play," explains Chunli. "I'm challenging my age. A lot of people say, 'Oh, already very old'. But I heard this word a long time ago."
"When I was 29 and went to play in Japan (professionally, and against men) my friends told me 'you are too old'. But I continued to play.
Then when I was 40, I won the Commonwealth Games gold [in 2002].
Many times, I felt age was no problem. But to be honest now – I don't know. People always say 'old, old, old'. So, it's really interesting. I want to try. I want to find out the answer."
Chunli is the subject of an upcoming short film – `Table for One', produced by Loading Docs, which outlines her unlikely Olympic pursuit and single minded dedication.
It's been a life full of sacrifice, with the most poignant scenes when she discusses pursuing table tennis, at the expense of everything else.
"When I was in my 20s, I was faced with a choice," says Chunli in the film, as she sits in her small bedroom.
"The friends and classmates around me all chose to find a boyfriend and get married. Naturally I wondered if I should do the same. But when it came to make the decision, I realised my heart was telling me to pursue table tennis."
Chunli has been devoted to the sport since the age of nine, and still plays or coaches every day.
"If there was a suitable partner who really supported me and accompanied me on the road of table tennis, that would actually be quite nice," she adds in the film, which was directed by Jenny Gao.
"But I never had the luck or fate. I very naturally walked on ahead by myself. So, I feel I am quite lucky. I can follow my heart to choose my own life. And the path I walk."
Another eye-catching scene has Chunli admitting she often forgets to go to the Supermarket, as she reveals a freezer full of frozen dumplings and nothing else.
"When I'm focussed on something then other things are a little bit week," she laughs.
Her reaction to a recent burglary is also captured. She's upset, but relieved that they didn't take her New Zealand Order of Merit (NZOM) medal, received in 2017 for services to the sport.
That investiture was a long time coming, as few have done so much – over such a long period – to raise the profile of their chosen pursuit.
"It has been her life," says long time national high performance director and former national women's coach Murray Finch. "What she has done has been incredible. She's been an elite athlete in the genuine sense of the word. She's also had disappointments, but she has continued to strive in the face of failure."
Chunli was an outstanding player in China, at one point among the top three or four in the early 1980s, but internal competition was fierce.
She had fallen out of favour by the age of 23, `retiring' from the sport.
In 1987 she took up an opportunity in Palmerston North as a coach, after making some connections on a previous tour.
Chunli won her first national title the same year, becoming a unbroken run of local success, before she took up an offer to play professionally in Japan, often against men, seeking greater competition.
By 1992 she had qualified to represent New Zealand and was selected for the Olympics.
Chunli won two of three pool matches in Barcelona, but a loss to eventual bronze medallist Yu Sun-Bok meant elimination before the knockout stages.
It became a pattern across her Olympic career.
Four years later the competitors were split into 16 groups, and Chunli won her first two pool matches. But she couldn't top Chen Jing, the 1988 Olympic champion who went on to win silver in Atlanta.
Her experience in Sydney was perhaps the most unfortunate. At 38-years-old, Chunli was razor-sharp and progressed unbeaten to the last 32. The top 16 seeds were placed in their slots, before the remaining competitors were drawn.
"In Sydney she played very well and was unbeaten in her group," recalls Finch. "But they have a very complicated way of doing the draw for the knockout stage. Players from the same countries must be separated, and there are other separations."
Finch was at the draw, as New Zealand team manager.
"Because she was the only athlete from New Zealand, we were the last taken into consideration," adds Finch. "Believe it or not, they draw balls out of a cardboard shoebox. There were two left in the draw, and I had to pull one of them out."
"One was going to a European player, that Chun Li was very confident of beating, and the other one was going up to the top seed and world No 1.
Guess which ball I drew? That was the only time I've heard Chunli swear, when I had to ring her and tell her what the draw was."
Chunli was competitive, but fell 21-17, 21-15, 21-9 to Wang Nan, who took the gold medal.
Her final Games came in Athens in 2004, as a 42-year-old. She had decided to prepare for the event in China – lacking the requisite training partners in New Zealand – and trained with a regional squad. The coach insisted on a round robin event, involving nearly 30 players, which Chunli regrets.
"I played nearly the whole week and I don't think my body condition was the very best before leaving China," says Chunli. "That is a shame."
The Olympics tournament was now a straight knockout format.
Chunli won her first match, then was pitted against world No1 Zhang Yining, who went on to take gold, then defended her crown in Beijing four years later.
She lost in four sets.
"Doing well at the Olympics is about getting your world ranking up but also getting a bit of luck," says Finch. "Yes, you do make your own luck, but you need to be blessed with being in the right place at the right time sometimes. At Olympic level Chunli has not had that fortune."
Ask Chunli for her favourite memories and she hesitates – "at each age, some good games, good memories" - before settling on two.
The first was the 1997 Women's World Cup in Shanghai, which featured five of the world's top 10 players, and half of the top 20.
The 35-year-old Chunli was coming off a last eight finish at the Japan Open and ranked world No 49.
"I had no training partner, no coach, no one to warm up with but I got to the semi-finals and everyone in Shanghai was very friendly to me."
She had a stunning week and lost only twice, to the world's third and fourth ranked players respectively and remains the only Oceania player to place at a World Cup event.
The other was at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, when as a 40-year-old she took four medals, including singles gold. Chunli won 24 of 26 matches, competing in doubles, women's team and mixed doubles.
In the singles semi-final she beat world No 16 Jing Junhong, who had reached the last four at the Sydney Olympics. The final was even better, as Chunli topped Li Jiawei, the world No 8 who was 19 years younger.
The Singaporean, who would go on to reach the singles semi-finals at successive Olympics, was beaten in five sets to cap an astounding week.
"They were top class, ex-Chinese players who had migrated and she took them both out," says Finch. "That was amazing."
There are many remarkable strands to Chunli's long career, and the scale of her achievements can be difficult to comprehend, as we don't always appreciate global sports.
"To use a rugby analogy - which is difficult," says Finch. "It would be like someone leaving the All Blacks to go and play in Uruguay, and then continuing to be the best player in the world in their position. And that's in a sport that is played by millions and in more than 200 countries."
Finch has witnessed Chunli's remarkable longevity, most recently seen at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
"She probably should have made the quarter finals," says Finch. "But she was over 50 then and still beating top-50 players."
Still, Finch is circumspect about her Olympic quest.
"It's an explosive sport and you need a high degree of physical conditioning and speed of reaction," says Finch. "You can compensate with experience and we have seen players in their late 30s and early 40s do it at Olympic level.
I think she can qualify but to get the results internationally to earn selection?
That's a really big ask. She would need to go back on the world circuit, a massive financial commitment."
"Is it possible to do it at 60? No one ever has before. If she believes she can, I'm sure she will give it a shake. It's improbable, but Chunli delights in doing that."
Chunli is training four to six times a week, around her academy and private coaching commitments. She will use the rest of 2020 to develop a base, before entering events next year.
"Last year my body didn't feel so good, with cramp and tight muscles," says Chunli. "But now I feel much better. And my mind is more improved than before. If you want to become older slowly, it's good to play table tennis."
As she points out in the film, crouched over a huge bucket of balls; "I'm nearly 60 but on the table I feel like I am 30."
The final shot is her playing table tennis alone, outside, in a huge park in Panmure.
"I want to enjoy this process of constantly improving," she says in Mandarin. "So long as you play table tennis you won't be able to stay still. You'll never feel lonely. To be honest I think there is no end."
"Am I really too old? No one truly knows until I compete. The greatness of your heart determines the vastness of your universe."
Table For One launches on Monday 24 August as part of the 2020 Loading Docs collection and can be viewed online via nzherald.co.nz/loadingdocs and loadingdocs.net