Lily Zhang says the two questions she gets requested maximum are: “Are you able to beat Forrest Gump?” and “Are you right at beer pong?” Inquiries to which, when requested by NBCOlympics. Com, the now two-time U.S. Olympian responds, “No comment.”

For the beyond half century, ping-pong in The has thrived in basements, rec centers and summer season camps, in which the stakes are not any higher than reasonably-priced donuts and excessive fives. Despite moments of cultural apotheosis like Nineteen Seventies ping-pong diplomacy and the aforementioned 1995 Exceptional Photo winner, desk tennis is still appeared as more a sport of pastime than opposition.

Greater than sixteen million Individuals play the sport socially, consistent with U.S. table Tennis (USATT), however fewer than 10,000 actively compete in tournaments. It’s an uncommon remarks loop wherein reputation breeds triviality. Ping-pong is a laugh in large part because you do not ought to take it severely.

“I think not a lot of human beings have seen actual desk tennis,” says the 20-year-antique Zhang, who lost her best singles match in London in directly units. “Humans think it’s simply inside the storage, you stand there, swing your arms around wildly or something… If we get sufficient media exposure and enough humans to peer what the sport actually is, I suppose it’ll trade lots of minds.”

The CEO of USATT, Gordon Kaye, admits that “one of the matters we as a company have no longer executed well is bridging the gap between social players—leisure gamers—and competitive play.” Kaye, who joined USATT in 2014, is consequently seeking to reform the focus of his company to worry much less about what number of people play the game and extra approximately how well those players do. “I think we want to begin measuring our fulfillment based totally on success, now not participation,” Kaye says.

Whilst Kaye emphasizes “overall performance over participation,” his rhetoric can at times belie that objective, perhaps due to his avowed passion for the game. Talk to Kaye, and he’ll tell you that “as long as there are two human beings standing across the desk from every other gambling, I’m good with that.” Ask him what makes table tennis outstanding, and he’ll flash a heat smile earlier than responding, “You may be tall, You can be short, You may be skinny, You could be fats, You could be white, You can be black, You can be Asian, it could be sunny, it could be raining, it can be snowing, it is able to be night time, it could be day. You could play ping-pong in all of these situations.”

No medals: Reaching for the podium in America's struggling sports
No medals: Reaching for the podium in America’s struggling sports

***

Americans weren’t continually hopeless in desk tennis. The U.S. won 32 global championship medals, 10 gold, in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s1, tangible illustrations of what Kaye calls “an exceedingly wealthy culture of the game in the United states of america.”

however, that wide variety can be a touch deceptive. Best 10 or so international locations competed in the ones early, European-based tournaments, with many now-preeminent Asian international locations unnoticed due to a few aggregates of organizational problems, transportation problems and geopolitics. China, for instance, didn’t be a part of the fray till 1953, and over the next decades, Chinese and Jap athletes would win 21 of 24 feasible singles golds. The U.S

 

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., in the meantime, became left swinging from in the back of.

Of direction, that each one should’ve modified with ping-pong international relations, whilst the yankee desk tennis crew visited Communist China in 1971. An image of team U.S. on the extraordinary Wall graced the quilt of TIME Mag, the maximum remarkable example of ardent media coverage of the exchange. A newfound interest in the game spread throughout The usa, however U.S.A. table Tennis wasn’t able to capitalize at the buzz.

“Our huge task within the U.S. turned into we had been clearly nevertheless a beginner, neighborhood, recreational game, or a recreation even,” laments O’Neill, who’s now the media expert for USATT and an Olympic analyst for NBC. “It crushed our gadget. We weren’t able to take complete advantage [of ping-pong diplomacy] ‘reason we had no infrastructure. I suggest, humans could play once a week at a basic school cafeteria. They’d have five tables that they’d set up, and all of a surprising you’d have an influx of perhaps 50,000 human beings that wanted to play, but we couldn’t include or we couldn’t deal with that. So the sport kind of went back to its slower or its smaller roots.”

Rapid ahead to today, and the U.S. Hasn’t earned an international medal on account that a 1959 tie for bronze in men’s singles.