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Table Tennis

Updated:2008-06-03 17:38 |

Atlanta, 1 August 1996. Games of the XXVI Olympiad. Table tennis, men's singles: Guoliang LIU of China serves during the singles final versus fellow contryman Tao WANG. Credit: Getty Images

Gossima. Whiff-Whaff. Flim-Flam. Ping-Pong.

Whatever name it assumes, table tennis has come a long way since its introduction as a genteel, after-dinner alternative to lawn tennis in 1890s England. Today, players compete for big money, wield high-tech rackets and volley the ball at speeds up to 160 kilometres per hour. Table tennis has become the world's largest participation sport, with 40 million competitive players worldwide and countless millions playing recreationally.

The game, which debuted in the Olympic Games in 1988 at Seoul, began with cigar-box lids for rackets and a carved champagne cork for a ball. Today, players use specially developed rubber-coated wooden and carbon-fibre rackets and a lightweight, hollow celluloid ball. Various rubber compounds and glues are applied on the rackets to impart greater spin or speed.

Indeed, some glues are banned from Olympic competition - they make the ball travel up to 30km/h faster.

Discipline's origin

Table tennis developed in the late 19th century, although its origins are not well documented. It is usually considered to be of English origin, and is described as a "miniature" tennis that was played indoors in the 1880s and 1890s. The rules of the game were codified in 1922 by a Cambridge University student, Ivor Montagu (1904-1984).

In January 1926, five nations - Austria, England, Germany, Hungary, and Sweden - met to form the International Table Tennis Federation. The World Championships began in the same year.

Olympic history

The sport is widely practised throughout the world. Table tennis made its Olympic debut as a full medal sport during the Olympic Games in Seoul. It was never contested at the Olympics as a demonstration sport. Since the late 1950s, the Chinese have been by far the dominant country in table tennis.

There are four table tennis events on the Olympics programme: singles and doubles for men and women. The mixed doubles event is not held at the Olympics, but it has been an event at the World Championships since 1926.

Opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics