A long way from the rec room

I’ve been so mesmerized by the online coverage of archery and weightlifting (no joke!) that I’ve yet to delve much into the table tennis archive at nbcolympics.com Though the action’s a bit too quick to show up well on my broadband, alas.

Doubles table tennis is so entertaining because it defies the laws of geometry. As anyone who’s played in a rec room fully understands, a Ping-Pong table simply isn’t big enough to accommodate four people. The key skill that every doubles team must master has nothing to do with shot-making or defense. Rather, it’s having the agility to get the hell out of the way of your partner.

In doubles table tennis, partners must alternate shots. That means the goal of any team is to sow confusion in the enemy—to make it so the player whose turn it is to hit has to get through his or her partner to do so. The highlight of a doubles match is when partners kick, trip, or smash into one another. I once saw a Malaysian duo knock heads so hard the match was delayed nearly half an hour. Also fun: when one player swings for the ball and hits his or her partner instead.

Sadly, at the Olympic level, the players are too accomplished for this to happen. Maybe it’s just as well, then, that doubles has been eliminated as an Olympic event.


from “In praise of doubles table tennis,” by Robert Weintraub, Slate, 18 August 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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