The Summer Olympics are fast approaching, and you’ve already started figuring out which events you just can’t miss. You and your coworkers are facing tough decisions, like whether you have to move that morning meeting in order to view the track and field events, or if you need to cancel your conference call so you can see Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte go head-to-head. But while you’re wrapped up in following the big-name sports like swimming and soccer, you might want to direct your attention to the smaller, but no less exciting, event of table tennis. For those of us who are surprised to hear that the game we played during childhood on the three-way convertible pool/ping pong/air hockey table is actually an Olympic sport – don’t be; it may seem casual to the average person, but played competitively, table tennis can be quite the serious sport (See: Forrest Gump). Originally more popular in Asia and Europe, table tennis has more recently been gaining notoriety in the United States.
The sport of table tennis originated in Britain sometime during the 1880’s, where it was played by the upper class as a parlor game following dinner. Back then there were no paddles or official ping pong balls, so they used books and a golf ball, and lined a row of books up in the middle of the table to serve as their “net.” The sport evolved over the years and eventually acquired the name “ping-pong,” however the rights to that name quickly became limited when a British manufacturer trademarked it, then sold the rights to American game manufacturer Parker Brothers. The rest of the world had to then officially refer to it as “table tennis.”
Table tennis first appeared in the Olympics during the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea. They have largely been dominated by the Chinese at each Olympics, with the Swedish and South Koreans giving them a run for their money on a few occasions. Table tennis events include men’s and women’s singles, and men’s and women’s team matches. Singles events go to the best of seven games, with the first player to receive 11 points winning (although it has to be by a margin of 2 points). Team events are made up of four singles matches and one doubles match, and each match is played to the best of five games. This year, Team USA consists of Ariel Hsing (16 years old), Erica Wu (15), Lily Zhang (15) and Timothy Wang (20). Hsing, and Zhang will be competing in the women’s singles and team events, Wu will be in the women’s team events, and Wang will be participating in the men’s singles events.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China swept the Games, bringing home (or in this case, keeping at home) all four gold medals. This year, Team USA will be looking to put an end to China’s winning streak and bring home some hardware of its own. Starting July 28 and running until August 8, tune in to NBC to watch our team face off against the best from across the globe!
For more information regarding the 2012 Summer Olympics, go to www.nbcolympics.com or www.london2012.com. For updates on Team USA, visit www.teamusa.org.