A Much Maligned Sport

Nassau Weekly (2/28/85)


By E. Randol Schoenberg (Randy) (’88), Staff Writer

What sport was the inspiration for the first video game?

Clueless? It’s also the precursor of two well-known drinking games.

Still need a hint? It’s the world’s fastest racquet sport, the second most popular on the globe, and will be included in the 1988 Olympics.

If you haven’t figured out this simple riddle yet, you’re probably one of the few people who hasn’t played ping-pong.

Known to the club varsity players as table tennis, this sport requires more athletic talent than is commonly assumed. According to Steve Kong, captain of the club varsity team, “To be good, you have to be an excellent athlete. You need to be in good condition, have good reflexes, hand-eye coordination, quickness, and intense concentration. Considering that the 38 mm balls often reach speeds of 150 mph over the nine-foot table, Kong’s contentions suddenly become convincing.

But table tennis players rarely get the respect they deserve, and Princeton is no exception. In January, football coaches decided that they wanted to put a weight room in what had long been the table tennis room on E level of Jadwin Gym. Needless to say, the decision was made long before Kong was ever notified. The table tennis team was offered a storage room with a five foot ceiling. Kong explained that the new arrangement would be impossible and persuaded Jadwin administrators to let the club practice in the lobby. So, every Friday afternoon, 10-20 club members carry and roll out the tables into the lobby and play their much-maligned sport.

Although only three of the nine team members are not American citizens, the club has a decidedly international flavor. Table tennis is more accepted in other countries, famed as the favorite of the Chinese. Players from India, Taiwan, Thailand, Iran and England often come to practice just to pick up a game.

Don’t think that table tennis is just recreation, though. Competitiveness explains why on Saturday, February 23, while hundreds of students sat in the sun and played frisbee in courtyards, thirty dedicated ping-pong players vied for the Table Tennis Championship of Princeton University.

Kong doesn’t mind missing the sun for a chance to play table tennis. A graduate student in the Geology Department, Kong is now in his second year as team captain. He singlehandedly coordinated this year’s tournament which he hopes will again become an annual event.   (The tournament was held annually until 1983, when it was discontinued because of poor organization.)

Players who had not earned a varsity letter—yes, you can earn a letter in ping-pong—could complete in both A-level and Open Singles and Open Doubles. Experienced lettermen were excluded from the A-level draw, leaving the A-level wide open for the casual players.

The tournament was not without excitement. Senior John Abedor came out of nowhere to defeat three seeded players on his way to a first place finish in the A-level. Abedor squeezed by first seeded sophomore Parham Ghandchi 21-19, 19-21, 23-21 in the semi-finals, and went on to beat graduate student Wen-Ron Chi 21-15 in the third set to clinch the title. Asked to comment on his surprising success, the exhausted Abedor could only reply, “I’m really hungry. Let’s go!”

Abedor’s hunger was no surprise. After six hours of play, the Open division winners were still undecided. As the Harvard women’s basketball team began their noisy warm-ups, Jadwin technicians tested the sound system with blaring top 40 hits, and the men’s baseball team waited to take over the rest of Jadwin for practice, graduate student Greg McDermott edged out first seed Kong 21-13, 10-21, 21-18 to insure himself a berth in the Open Singles finals.

McDermott was visibly moved by his accomplishment. “I’m elated. I’m playing the best table tennis of my life. It’s just a great feeling, beating someone rated so far above me.” Due to the double elimination format, Kong still has a chance to win if he can beat the winner of the consolation bracket. His most likely opponent will be grad student Peppi Prasit. The remaining matches, including the doubles, have been postponed until Friday.

While some excellent players competed in the tournament, they’re on a different planet than the world’s best, who will meet in the Olympics for the first time in 1988. In preparation for the Seoul Olympics, the US Olympic Committee has provided funds for the US Table Tennis Association to heighten awareness of table tennis.

In essence, that’s also the goal of Kong and his club varsity team. “We want to introduce Princeton to table tennis,” says Kong. If he succeeds, the loopers, choppers, and pushers of the table tennis world may someday receive the recognition they do elsewhere.

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