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

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ariel hsing
Ariel Hsing in action during the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Scott Heavey/Getty Images

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.

From The Archives Issue 1162: August 2, 2012