The sport of table tennis has been dominated by China and Asian countries. In the U.S., the dominant players are of Asian descent, and players born in China or of Chinese heritage are leading the U.S. team into the Rio Olympics– where they hope to raise the game’s profile in North America.
Mark Niu has the details.
Asian players lead the US Olympic ping pong teamThe sport of table tennis has been dominated by China and Asian countries. In the U.S., the dominant players are of Asian descent. Players born in China or of Chinese heritage are leading the U.S. team into the Rio Olympics, and they hope to raise the game's profile in North America. Mark Niu has the details.
The India Community Center in Silicon Valley’s Milpitas, California is where some of the best table tennis in North America is played.
Three Olympians – half the U.S. Team – are practicing here. They include China-born Jiaqi Zheng, who has seen how players in China get government and financial support.
Not in America.
“It’s really difficult to get funding, players like us, play table tennis,” Jiaqi said. “I created a GoFundMe and then posted on Facebook. Hopefully people who love table tennis can support athletes like us.”
Chinese American Lily Zhang was the first American ping pong player to win a medal at the youth Olympic games. She points out that in the Olympics, ping pong is one of the few sports in which the U.S. has never medaled.
“Like when I was a junior we won a medal at the world junior championships. We can compete with the top countries – Japan, China, you know. It’s just difficult when we reach like 18,19, when we go to college. It’s not an NCAA sport. There’s no professional league here. So we can’t support ourselves,” she said.
Five of the six U.S. team members are Chinese American, while one is 16-year-old Indian American Kanak Jha.
“What people don’t realize the amount of spin we have, the speed,” Jha said. “And of course the mental. Table tennis is a very mental sport.”
In America, ping pong is still often considered a recreational sport. Most people don’t understand the skill, speed and determination it takes to become a champion. My friend Ayane believes she has what it takes to become a champion and to beat this college dorm room champion.
This 11-year-old killer is just one reason why U.S. Olympic coach Massimo Costantini believes despite the hurdles, ping pong in the U.S. will continue to make strides.