US Olympic Team of 3 Girls

(From the left: Erica Wu, Lily Zhang, Ariel Hsing, Timothy Wang. Photo credit Joola USA)

With London 2012 approaching and Olympic team selections are being fine-tuned, one lesser known sport has an unusual team lineup. Ping-pong, or better known as table tennis by its athletes, has three of its junior girls representing the U.S. Women’s Team, and only one for the Men’s.

Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu, all currently 16 years of age, are Olympic newcomers despite being veterans at tournaments all around the world. Age notwithstanding, they are serious players. Currently placed 10th, 17th, and138th in Under 18 Girls Cadet ranking respectively, they might not have a realistic chance against older athletes from powerhouse nations. Then again, many future chances for Olympic experience await them. The sole male qualifier, Timothy Wang (age 20), shall participate along with the girls.

How has the previous American teams fared in the sport? Past team arrangements have usually always included Chinese immigrants that were professionally trained athletes but considered too old to play by the Chinese team standards. This year, the three friends and rivals have finally come of age and fulfilled a dream they all lightly made when they started the sport: becoming U.S. Olympic Team members.

Albeit the enthusiasm they share, the fact still remains that Table Tennis is a Chinese-dominated sport. They have won 20 out of 24 gold medals since table tennis was introduced into the Olympics. After the Beijing Olympics reinforced the streak, China offered to teach the world about 60% of their secrets so as to even have competitors in the coming years. China was not joking. Many prospective coaches both young and old get visas overseas and come give lessons to the growing population of foreign players, making a living from the wages and regular tournament prizes. I’ve known younger ones that even decided to stay in the U.S. for school as well. In Teams events where China can’t sweep the places, European teams have surprisingly risen up. One of the big names in the sport is none other than a German player, Timo Boll, who was part of the Olympic Team that won Silver for his country.

With all of these youths, table tennis clubs nation-wide are surprisingly overrun with more senior members. Many hold day jobs and blow off steam in the clubs at night. The sport’s popularity can be attributed to its openness: anyone can join, as it requires little money to pick up. With the mixing of age groups and playing styles comes a versatility that is slowly bringing table tennis out from being a basement sport. In many countries, it is being incorporated in Physical Education classes and gaining TV coverage.

What do the girls have to say about it? You can read Ariel’s blog here on ESPN sports as London approaches.

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