What’s your favourite sport at the Olympics? After reading this, it will definitely be table tennis.
As Rio draws ever closer, we’re taking a look at each of the Olympic sports in turn. This week, we’re off to check out table tennis.
1. Like all epic sports, it’s dominated by one nation.
No single nation dominates any other sport as China does table tennis. It has won 23 of 24 available Olympic gold medals since 1996, the exception being South Korea’s Ryu-Seung-Min, who won the men’s singles title in 2004. The only other blip to Chinese dominance came in 2010, when Singapore won the women’s world team title – with a team made up of China-born players.
2. Great Britain’s representative has the best story behind her name.
Great Britain table tennis player Tin Tin Ho is named after her father’s infatuation with the sport (her “T T” initials stand for “table tennis”) but it could have been worse – much worse. Tin Tin, who represented GB at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, has a brother called Ping. “When you say you’re called Ping and you play ping-pong, it gets interesting,” said Ping. “Tin Tin narrowly avoided being called Pong, apparently.”
3. It was banned by the Soviet Union.
Table tennis was banned in the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1950 because the Stalinist authorities believed it was harmful to the eyes. This would perhaps help to explain why Russia has failed to win a single Olympic table tennis medal, and has not even been able to rustle up a table tennis competitor since 2008 in Beijing.
4. Table tennis balls may be able to keep an aeroplane afloat.
American entertainer and aviator Harry Richman had a theory that the pressurised gas inside thousands of table tennis balls would help keen an aeroplane afloat if it crashed into the ocean. In 1936, he aimed to test his theory by flying over the Atlantic with thousands of them stuffed into his plane’s wings. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in a sense), he landed safely in England, and his apparently barmy idea remains literally up in the air.
5. Whiff-whaff or ping-pong?
Boris Johnson sparked an unlikely war of words between historic proponents of whiff-whaff and ping-pong when he claimed the former had been invented first as a Victorian parlour game in the 19th century. His claim drew a furious response from a Londoner called Joe Jaques, whose family has always laid claim to the origins of ping-pong. “It’s absolute rubbish to say whiff-whaff came first,” said Jaques. “It was basically the same thing – but we were definitely first.”