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Olympics 2012: Table Tennis vs. Ping-Pong

U.S. Table Tennis team member Ariel Hsing explains how the Olympic sport is so very different from that game you play drunk in the basement

Ariel Hsing in action during the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
July 27, 2012 9:00 AM ET

Ariel Hsing, 16, is the highest-ranked of the four players on the U.S. Table Tennis team traveling to London. It should go without saying that any one of them could destroy you in ping-pong. Hsing explains exactly how her sport is different from yours.

Footwork is paramount.
"You use your hands in ping-pong," Hsing says, "but you use your feet to play table tennis."

"You hit a ping-pong ball, but you spin a table-tennis ball."
Hsing points out that ping-pong requires hand-eye coordination, as players tend to bat the ball in long rallies. Table tennis, though, "is a lot trickier," as top players deploy topspin, underspin, sidespin or, trickiest of all, no spin – which can be a killer when you've been deceived into expecting spin.

"Ping-pong is cheap, and table tennis can be expensive."
Your average home paddle is a $5 job from Target, and it lasts a lifetime, versus Hsing's rubber, which costs $80 and she replaces every week.

Table tennis is best-of-seven games to 11.
 Plus, the usual rally is much shorter than you'll see in the basement: "A typical rally is seven to nine balls. A really long rally is very rare."

It's bad form to skunk somebody in table tennis.
Hsing says that there's an etiquette "if you're up 10-0, you mis-hit a serve to be polite. But that's dangerous – people have been up 10-0 and lost.

This story is from the August 2, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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