Suzette Grosen - August 13 2020
Kronstadt x Maze
It was never in the cards that Michael Maze would play table tennis and eventually become one of the world's most exceptional talents in the sport. It all started as a bit of a coincidence.
Michael was born in Copenhagen (Amager) and grew up as a child of divorce. After the divorce, his mother moved to Faxe, a small town with almost 4,000 inhabitants in South Zealand, where he started at the local primary school and in the after-school center.
They played various table tennis games at the leisure center, and especially "Around the table" was popular among the little boys. It was before Playstation and Nintendo were common property, and if they didn’t play table tennis it was football on the large grass areas around the leisure center.
“Even as a child, I remember that I had a distinct competition gene. If my team lost in football, I could get pretty angry. The same, of course, was true of table tennis. Here, however, I only had myself to blame. My competitive gene aspired me to get better at the table tennis table and on the football field.”
Two choices; each stemming from passion
As a 7-year-old, Michael and his best friend Brian joined the small table tennis club in Faxe, where they played several times a week for the next few years. In his spare time, Michael still played football, for which he also had an exceptional understanding of the game.
Both table tennis and football took up a lot of space in Michael's life when he, as a 13-year-old, switched to a bigger table tennis club in the nearby town of Naestved. After that, it did not take long before he had to choose between the two sports.
"It was not an easy choice. I both liked playing football and at the same time looked forward to the football matches. The choice ended up falling on table tennis, as here I could be allowed to do things my way and be a "master in my own house”. I was not dependent on others nor their efforts or lack hereof.”
The deciding journey from Denmark to Düsseldorf
After that, Michael’s table tennis career became influential. As a 15-year-old, he moved into the national team center, and being in the graduating class, he went on a sports line where he could practice table tennis and, at the same time, take care of his regular schooling.
During this period, Michael received an offer from Europe's biggest club, Borussia Düsseldorf, who wanted him to be a regular on their first team.
"I was 16 when I left. It was a pretty wild decision, but probably mostly for my parents. For me, it was pretty obvious to travel and take it as an experience. It takes an hour to fly to Düsseldorf, and in the worst case, I can always pack my things and come back to Denmark. It wasn’t worse than that.”
For the first few years, he stayed in a hotel, after which he got his apartment, which became his base for the next six years. He then traveled around the world and participated in tournaments. In his youth, Michael won the majority of Europe's top-notch competitions with Borrusia Düsseldorf.
Michael ended up living in Düsseldorf for the next eight years.
However, it wasn’t until the middle of the 2000s before he had his breakthrough. In the meantime, Michael had moved to Paris, to which he commuted from Copenhagen. In 2004 he won his first major title the "Europe Top 16 Cup", and a few months later, a bronze medal at the Olympics in Athens. In 2005, he made his mark on table tennis' home court, China, where he, as the first European in many years, won a bronze medal.
”2004 and 2005 were the years when everything went up in a higher unit, and I started to mark myself at the big tournaments. It was a great time, but also hard and demanding for the body.
One of the big highlights of my career was when we, with the national team in 2005, won a World Cup medal. It was a tremendous experience to win this one with the boys. I was probably the team's flagship, but it was, first and foremost, a team effort. I was both touched and proud when I put the medal on.”
Another big highlight occurred in 2009 when Michael became a European champion in men's singles. This was his most significant individual title.
"It was a huge boy's dream that came true right there and in retrospect, probably also the culmination of my career. In the final, I won over German Timo Boll. It is perhaps the best match that I have ever played.”
Mixed sweets and maneuvering through obstacles
The next few years were like a bag of mixed sweets. Michael was suffering from various injuries and were operated in the hip twice. In 2010, Michael was completely out, and did not play at all that year. In 2012, he participated in the Olympics in London, where he lost the quarterfinals. He still played well, but his body was starting to give up.
”It is not atypical for table tennis players to suffer knee, shoulder, and hip injuries. I may have been more prone to injuries because I started playing as a 7-year-old. I can only guess.”
As the many injuries made their mark on the performance at the table, the joy of the sport disappeared quietly. Putting the career on the shelf and then playing for fun when the time and desire were there begins to rumble and fills over the years more and more.
In 2016, Michael Maze pulled the plug and announced that he has finished playing table tennis professionally.
”Of course, it was a difficult decision, but I had come to terms with it when I announced it. The hardest part was telling it to my sponsors and my manager, who had been there for me for several years. I was nervous about the press conference because once it's announced, there is no turning back. Subsequently, however, it was a huge relief. Now I could move on.”
A new beginning
Michael spent the following years relaxing and traveling around the world. In a short time, he went from having a structured and disciplined everyday life to now have much more free time on his hands. He was sure that he had to reinvent himself and make solid plans for the future.
”At this point, I have both a mental and physical need for a little more peace around me. The body needs to recover, and the break did wonders for me. When my old club in Roskilde in 2018 asked me if I wanted to come in and be on standby, I felt rested and accepted the offer. I want a couple of good years where it is still at a semi-high level, but not that hard for the body that it takes days to recover. It's very cool to be playing again in a way where the results may no longer be the most important thing."
During this period, it was not only the table tennis that Michael dealt with. In parallel with his work in Roskilde Table Tennis (BTK 61), the seeds for a new restaurant in Copenhagen were sown. Cafe John & Woo saw the light of day in the spring of 2020.
”I could feel that I needed to try something new. In the years after I had put table tennis on the shelf, it was a little strange that I did not have that identity anymore. I've been a professional table tennis player for almost as long as I can remember. Who the hell am I now? It's not because it's been difficult. Just weird in some way. I think it works well with a smooth transition between two tracks in my life. I am both a table tennis player and run a café.”
Dipping toes in a new interest
John & Woo is a café in the street where Michael grew up and where his father lived for several years. Michael, himself had visited the cafe several times and has a large circle of acquaintances in the area. He opened the café in collaboration with his great friend Sune Høi. The name "John & Woo" comes from the middle names of Michael and Sune. Not many know it, but Michael’s middle name is John.
The café is a French-style bistro. Here you are served various delicacies such as Egg Benedict, Croque Madame, and the classic avocado toast in the daytime and grilled lobster, Steak Bearnaise, and a tasty burger for a delightful evening. Both the decor and menu are heavily inspired by the many journeys that Michael has been on.
”It is a place that I have come to a lot when I have been "home”. When the opportunity arose, it was evident to me to buy the place with my good friend and make a place according to our likings. We have tried to make a place with an "urban feeling", but it is a place where many different people come and where there must be room for everyone. That is why we have also put ourselves in a price range where most people can participate. We do not just overprice the food because we have spent a little extra on the decor," says Michael and continues with a smile on his face "Sune probably knows a thing or two more about running a café than I do, but I try to learn quickly.”
Kronstadt x Maze; a collaboration
Michael had no doubt when Kronstadt asked him about wanting to become an ambassador for the brand. He already knew about the brand, and some of his favorite items were from Kronstadt. At the same time, he felt that the brand fits his personality in terms of value.
”It's pretty much no bullshit with Kronstadt. These are clothes in reliable quality at fair prices. What you see is what you get. I imagine that I am such a person myself. Simple, very straightforward, and, most importantly, with a connection to the ground below me."
He continues, "In the same way, I also sense an "earthiness" in Kronstadt. The collections are often simple styles that are timeless and can be combined in several ways. These are clothes that do not go out of fashion and that you can enjoy for several years to come without aging, fading, or wearing out. I like that."
Kronstadt's collections have a wide range and can be combined with other pieces in a myriad of ways. Michael is not equally fond of all the styles, but most of the items from the various collections fit well with his style.
His daily go-to is a basic t-shirt with a pair of pants that he wears every day. If he has to continue to a restaurant or a bar in the evening, he replaces the t-shirt with a more formal dress shirt.
Some of Michael's favorites include:
”There is not so much "pop-smartness" with Kronstadt. It is a serious company that makes quality clothes that suit my style and can combine depending on needs and situation. I'm okay with putting a face to it."