July 5, 2005 > Table Tennis - world-class competition comes to the Bay Area
Table Tennis - world-class competition comes to the Bay Area
Table tennis is not your average, backyard, game of ping-pong. This is a varsity sport revered in many parts of the world. National pride is on the line when China sends its teams to tournaments and players at this level train incessantly with weights and strengthening exercises. Underrated in the West, this game played correctly combines agility, strength, hand-eye coordination and intense concentration. Equipment is kept in optimum condition and players constantly train to make split-second decisions about tactics and an opponent's use of spin and speed control.
Table Tennis debuted as an Olympic event at the 1988 Seoul games. It has since become the world's largest participation sport, with 40 million competitive players worldwide and countless millions playing recreationally, according to www.olympic.org.
"In [other races], it's how fast you are the first 100 meters. In table tennis, it's how fast you are that first step," said Newark resident Shashin Shodhan, an alternate on the 2000 Olympic table tennis team and hopeful for 2008.
The sport requires agility and lightning fast reactions. Shodhan noted that almost all of the top players do weight training for the legs to be as fast as possible. Studies by the Olympic committee have shown table tennis players to be some of the best conditioned athletes at the games.
At the age of 5, Shodhan saw his father's table tennis trophy and high-quality paddle and got "all excited" and wanted to play with it. His father told him that he must first hit a ball against the wall 100 times, consecutively. Young Shodhan completed the task and the prized paddle was his.
Moving to the United States at the age of 6, he found not much said about table tennis. His father, a tournament player, saw a notice about a table tennis club in Union City and he and his son joined. Shodhan took to the game like a duck to water and surpassed his father's skill level by the age of 12.
A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Shodhan wants to continue with his first passion - coaching table tennis. He sees the potential for the sport to grow in the Bay Area and beyond.
Top table tennis players range in age from 18 to 40 with China dominating the game. Table tennis is the country's pride and its national team is so popular it must be escorted through airports to protect players from fans. In parts of Europe table tennis players are as well known as soccer players.
"Here [in the United States] you wouldn't know who is number one. You might think it's your dad," jokes Shodhan.
The Bay Area, according to Shodhan, is a hotbed for the often misunderstood game. That is why he decided to start his own league and make table tennis as well-known as baseball. With five teams - Palo Alto, San Francisco, Milpitas, Concord and Mountain View with an Olympic hopeful on each team - he has created a table tennis league and hopes to one day expand to Southern California and beyond. He currently holds lessons at the India Community Center in Milpitas (555 Los Coches St., 408-934-1130).
Table tennis receives some of the lowest funding among all Olympic sports. If Shodhan wants to compete in 2008, he will have to pay his own way. Although he has a bad knee, he is preparing for games that are three years away.
While everyone is welcome to join in a game of table tennis at one of the league's meeting places, Shodhan warns that the neighborhood ping-pong champ will probably get a rude awakening.
"It might be a frustrating experience the first couple of times. There is big difference between recreational ping-pong where you don't move your feet and table tennis with its high-quality paddles and full-body exertion."
Anyone can play table tennis but Shodhan recommends lessons to beginners. Table tennis coaches, like him, can quickly help players learn the spins and moves needed to compete against skilled table tennis athletes. First one needs the right equipment; a paddle from the local sporting goods store will just not do. A basic beginner table tennis paddle runs about $15 while professional paddles can cost $100 or more. The rubber pad is changed every 1500 to 2000 hours of play. There is an art and science to selecting the proper cushion for superior control. At the Olympics, table tennis players change rubber on their paddles for each game for optimum performance.
The primary obstacle to mastering table tennis is managing the spin of the ball. A backspin serve causes the ball to slow down while a top spin speeds it to the opponent. An average rally between top rated players will usually last four strokes or less. Therefore, the serve, as in full-court tennis, is essential to the strategy and success in the game.
To learn more about table tennis leagues, go to the Northern California Table Tennis website at www.nctt.com. There you can connect to the Milpitas Table Tennis website. For those interested in lessons or the new table tennis league, Shashin Shodhan can be contacted at (510) 794-1284 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Table Tennis Tournament
Open to all - Spectators welcome (small admission charge)
July 9 - 10
India Community Center
555 Los Coches St., Milpitas
or call Shashin (510) 794-1284
...and Age Brackets
Under age 10
Under age 18
Over age 40