By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s all about spinning a ball that weighs less than an ounce and making sky-high lobs on a nine-by-five-foot table with a six-inch-high net.
Billy Ding is a Chinese American who has played table tennis for over six years, slicing the small white (or orange) ball with his black-rubber-faced paddle in only a split second.
He will join 60 other students and six professional players from China at the Table Tennis Showcase on Feb. 11 at the Green Lake Community Center in Seattle. Members of the Seattle Pacific Table Tennis Club (SPTTC), the Green Lake Table Tennis Club, and the Pacific Sports Exchange will also display their talents at the event, which starts at 7:00 p.m.
Ding first watched his parents play recreational ping pong in the basement of their Bellevue home, an experience shared by many American families. At the age of 9, he joined them and became interested in the sport.
“I just liked the competition, and I could see them laughing. It looked fun, so I just wanted to try it,” he explained.
That first try soon led to table tennis lessons from different coaches. For the last three years, the Bellevue teen has been coached by Jia “Coach Judy” Qi, SPTTC founder and former coach of the women’s table tennis team in Hubei, China.
He admitted hitting the ball correctly was a challenge at first, a problem faced by most people. “Once you find out the mechanics, it just takes a lot of practice,” he said.
Ding’s arsenal of topspin, backspin, and sidespin strokes — each one causing the ball to curve and spin at an average 100 rotations per second — is the result of his daily practice schedule. He says he practices the proper form and rhythm that are necessary in table tennis more than 20 hours every week.
That repetition has allowed him to hit the ball using instinct to instantly react to its lightning-quick speed, reaching over 100 miles per hour at times.
Ding’s precise and compact arm movements mimic the kick-like leg movements displayed by marching soldiers in a military parade.
“You also have to be mentally strong, especially when you play in matches, even in training, too,” he pointed out. It requires the same focused concentration that his schoolwork requires, he said.
Invented in England, table tennis is much more popular in China than in the U.S. Most of the world’s “Top 10” players are from China — Zhang Jike and Ning Ding won individual gold medals last May at the 2011 World Table Tennis Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
In the May 2007 issue of Faces, Peg Lopata noted, “More than 300 million Chinese play ping pong, with about 30,000 young players receiving formal training. About 2,000 Chinese play professionally.”
Table Tennis Showcase organizer Victor Wu said, “American people like something big that they can view on television.
Unless you play it, you really can’t enjoy it much [by] watching it on television. In China, they watch table tennis the same way we watch football here.” (2012’s Super Bowl XLVI was watched by a record 111.3 million people, according to Nielsen estimates.)
Wu, 56, has played table tennis since the age of 5 and says the smaller average size of Asians, in general, helps. “It’s easier to move.”
He acknowledges table tennis is a major part of Chinese culture and compares the showcase to a “recital” that encourages everyone who plays.
“I thought we should have a show, and that’s where the idea [for the showcase] came from.”
Attila Malek, club director and member of the board of directors for the United States Table Tennis Association, says there are more than 20 million people in the U.S. playing table tennis.
He said, “I work with lots of kids, and they do not look at table tennis as a real sport. That’s one of the main misconceptions, not realizing the incredible speed, quickness, agility, and reflexes that it takes to become a world-class player.”
Like football, college scholarships are available to table tennis players.
Interest in table tennis has even led to the formation of the first-ever U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League. Malek said the league offers $100,000 in prize money to “clubs around the United States.”
“You are going to see a lot of fun things that you normally don’t see in table tennis,” Wu said about the showcase, Both active players and those who have an interest are invited. “It will be enjoyable from beginning to end.” (end)
A limited number of free tickets are available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 425-644-7833.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.