If you thought table tennis is a non-contact sport, you're sadly mistaken. Just ask Ariel Hsing, one of the top U.S. table tennis players who will be representing her country in the Olympics. "I was at a local tournament, and the tables were very close together. There was another girl on the table next to me, and when she hit the ball, her follow-through was kind of large, and she ended up hitting my forehead with her racquet. I started to bleed really bad – I had to go the hospital and get four stitches."
But when the U.S. table tennis team arrives in London, large follow-throughs will be the least of their worries, especially considering competing against an exceptional China team (that won four gold, two silver and two bronze medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing). Just ask two-time U.S. table tennis Olympian Sean O'Neill, who will be calling the games on television. "At one point, they asked China when they were going to beat the U.S. in basketball, and they said, 'At the same time you can beat us in table tennis.'"
Despite making fans out of such notables as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (whom Hsing refers to as "Uncle Warren" and "Uncle Bill"), table tennis in the U.S. appears to still have a ways to go to match other countries, according to another current U.S. table tennis Olympian, Timothy Wang. "The U.S., everybody has to balance both school and table tennis. In other countries where table tennis is dominant – China, Korea, Japan – they start out really young and they have a much better system. But I feel like we're producing a lot of really good players, regardless."
From his past experience at the 1988 games (the first year table tennis was an Olympic event) and the 1992 games, O'Neill offers this bit of advice to the U.S. table tennis team. "You just want to get a win under your belt. I know from experience – it's so nerve-racking when you're out there, because you just keep thinking about the enormity of the event."
And lastly, if a match can be arranged, does Hsing feel she possesses the skill to beat the greatest table tennis player that ever lived, Forrest Gump? "I think I can beat Tom Hanks, but I don't know about Forrest Gump. He looks pretty intense in that movie."