In an Olympic Games full of high-level athletes, superhuman physical feats and endless praise for someone’s athletic achievement, table tennis never seems to get its due.
In the most anticipated match of this year’s Olympics, China’s Ma Long faced off against his fellow countryman Zhang Jike in not only the battle of China’s best, but the Olympic Gold Medal in men’s singles. Right from the beginning of the match it was obvious that Long was on the top of his game. He defeated the defending Olympic gold medalist, Jike, in straight sets, 4-0. This may not have been the match of the tournament from a competitive standpoint, but it definitely did not disappoint when it comes to the skill and mastery that was put on display by these two competitors.
Not only should table tennis be in the Olympics, table tennis should be far more respected and anticipated from a sports fan perspective.
Pretty much everybody has played table tennis at one point or another during his or her life. Whether it was an old table in your grandparent’s basement, an annoying phys. ed. exercise you were forced to go through in gym class, or at a buddy’s place to pass the time while drinking far too many alcoholic beverages. The fact of the matter is, everyone has played. But you aren’t playing table tennis, no, you are playing ping pong. High-level table tennis is something that us lowly average folk could never dream of achieving.
Watching Olympic table tennis really puts into perspective just how large the gap is between normal people playing ping pong and the people who have spent their lives working and practicing and honing their skills on the table. Just watch this video to get a real sense of how amazing some of these athletes are:
The shots these players pull off are absolutely mind-blowing. They can hit the exact spot they want from twenty feet away after a 70 mile per hour ball was shot directly at them at an angle, speed and rotation that they could have never prepared for. The sheer skill and hand-eye coordination that it takes to compete at the Olympic level is unfathomable.
When watching table tennis at the Rio Games it is easy to recognize the vast gap between what we may think of our table tennis skills and what is being displayed.
Olympic level table tennis is a combination of running, punching, and chess all at once. You need to be able to have the stamina to keep up with the movements of the ball. You need to have the strength to keep pushing the ball to where you want it to go. You have to maintain focus through long rallies to keep hitting your spot exactly where you want the ball to land.
The mental fortitude and concentration that these players display during their matches is right on par with Olympic divers, archers or gymnasts. From the second they pick up the ball to set their serve to the second that whistle is blown and the point is awarded.
Being successful on the table is as much due to your individual skill in the game as it is in your mind’s ability to zone in and focus on what you need to do to beat your fellow opponent. Getting a feel for the way the other person plays is just as important to success as displaying your own unique play style.
When you break down table tennis and consider all of the aspects of it in a critical sense, it lives up to all of the expectations of what a sport should be, doesn’t it? It requires athletic ability, hand-eye coordination skills, decisive moves and strategy. When poker and NASCAR racing are given top billing on sports networks, why can’t table tennis be treated the same way?
The table tennis status in the world of the sport is on its way up. The first ever United States nationwide league is currently in the process of coming to fruition. To add to that, there are now 141 collegiate level teams listed as current members of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.
The singles tournament is over at Rio with China’s Ma Long taking home the men’s gold, while the women’s singles gold was achieved by another Chinese player, Ding Ning. However, you still have a chance to catch some amazing table tennis action because the team tournament starts on Friday, August 12th.
Make fun of table tennis all you want, hell you can even call it ping pong if it makes you feel better. Just do me one favour, give it a look because I guarantee you will be impressed with what you see out of these impressive athletes.
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For more on the 2016 Rio Olympics, check out this week’s podcast:
Follow author: @kahl23