USA Table Tennis
1954: Shrout Enables U.S. Team to Attend World’s. 1954: No titles for U.S. in London. 1954: Post-World’s Tournaments
At the very beginning of the 1953-54 season President Shrout had made his pitch to send a U.S. Team to the Apr. 6-14 London World’s. Imagine, he said, if none of the countries sent teams, the ITTF “would soon fold and dissolve….The standard of play would go down and very soon the game would be played only in basements. Participation in tournaments is what keeps the standard of the Sport up and helps to create more interest in table tennis throughout the world.” He estimates that $5,000 to $7,000 will be needed—hence the call for another “Fighting Fund.”
And this time USTTA members will help willy-nilly, for a Fighting Fund “tax,” so to speak, will be imposed. At all tournaments, with every event players enter, they’ll be helping our overseas Team: at a Closed they’ll pay $.10 extra; at an Open $.25 extra; and at the National’s $.50 extra. Also, officials and players are urged to pass the hat among the tournament spectators, perhaps raffle off a racket or two. The same applies to any exhibition audience the better players might volunteer to perform for. Meanwhile, players shouldn’t be shy about asking their sporting goods dealer to contribute $5 or $10 (TTT, Oct., 1953, 1).
…So, do you have to ask Fighting Fund Chair Jimmy McClure if the required thousands were raised? By Dec. 7th, reminding us of “a day that will live in infamy,” it was clear that this “tax” wasn’t enforced. Only $513.18 had been collected—and that from manufacturers, individuals, two raffles, and a few tournaments. By Jan. 15th, “the amount had soared to a little more than $600.” What was wrong? Affiliates weren’t helping, top players weren’t helping. “If all the countries participating in this great event can gather sufficient funds to do the job, why can’t the Americans?” (TTT, Jan., 1954, 6-7).
Can the partial answer be that even five years ago in Sweden there were “500 clubs” and “11,323” players. That in France there are now “1,443 clubs and 21,603 players”? That in Holland, the city of Utrecht has given $8,000 to secure the 1955 World’s and that a new Hall for the competition, the largest in Western Europe, has just been built? And that in Germany, as an American stationed there points out in a letter to Topics, “Practically every town and church group has a team and competition is keen. The teams practice several times weekly and usually have a match with another team in their league twice monthly. The sport is comparable to basketball in the states and the turnout of local spectators is high” (Dec., 1953, 4).
As late as Feb. 14, some of Shrout’s E.C. members, Jack Dale included, decided that, since so many affiliates weren’t cooperating (eventually the Fighting Fund would bring in $1,368.74, but the manufacturers and just four states—Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and New York—would account for $1,212.59 of it), the USTTA couldn’t send a Team. Too bad. Was there anything Shrout could do? There was: call in the Army. Shrout will fall back on what’s worked in the past—the players will give exhibitions for transportation to and from Europe. Everyone except Leah, who’s sailing ahead of time with her husband Ty on the S.S. Liberte, will fly out of Westover Field, Massachusetts on April Fool’s Day, bounce from Scotland to London where they’ll have “four days practice” before the Cup matches begin. After the World’s, “the team will be picked up by Army Special Services and will begin a 21-day tour of…Army installations throughout the United Kingdom” (TTT, Feb., 1954, 1).
How, at liberty, does the U.S. Women’s Champion spend her days before the World’s? As her jottings allow me to show you…she spends them leisurely. From her embarkation on March 24 to her landing at Plymouth on March 30 she briefly summarizes her ocean liner activities. She’d sometimes sleep late, for she didn’t retire early—was very social, to the point of making good friends with another couple, Evelyn and Harry Gott of N.J. Of course she dined, but she never said what she’d eaten (except once when she noted the special dessert of a baked Alaska), and though she toured the kitchens, she didn’t mention what she’d seen there. She would view at least one movie daily, and have afternoon tea on deck where, for example, she chatted with a Brigadier General’s wife, and where she was interviewed as a celebrity of sorts. But she wasn’t simply sedentary. On several occasions she’d walk the deck a dozen or so times, take a swim, dance in the evening. And taking advantage of the practice opportunity, she played in, even kept a record of, a shipboard table tennis tournament; then at a “Gala” dinner presented the tournament prizes, not to all 9 entries but to the winner, herself, and the runner-up, her husband Ty.
Coming off the liner and into Plymouth on a tender she met Prince Abdullah of Yemen. No one checked her bags at Customs, and in the Women’s Restroom she noted that “British Railways” was stamped on each piece of toilet paper. She and Ty arrived at Paddington Station on the afternoon of the 30th, then checked into the Royal Hotel (Room 2055). First thing she did was go to the English TTA Headquarters and get a copy of the Draw. That evening after dinner, while Ty went to a fight, Leah and Evelyn Gott went to the theatre (Row L, seats 7 & 8). Husband Ty, I might add, had been described as a “theater ticket broker.”
On March 31—she certainly had a jump on the rest of the U.S. Team, they wouldn’t leave Westover Field until Apr. 1—Leah went shopping (Selfridge’s, Jaeger’s, Goode’s) with her new friends the Gotts. She met Alec Brook, well-known for the many exhibitions he’d done with Barna, and visited his sports shop. Then she was off to St. Bride’s Institute to practice with the Japanese. She returned to the Royal and at the ETTA office there helped Geoff Harrower, a member of the ETTA Executive Committee (a much larger group than ours—about 20 strong), who was the Organizing Secretary and Referee of these World Championships. After dinner she left the hotel for Piccadilly Circus, met two Indian players, then “went to a pub until it closed.” What Ty was doing all day and all night she didn’t say.
On April 1, she met Alec Brook (got t.t. equipment and/or clothing from him?), then at lunch met a doctor from Nicaragua. That afternoon she went to the Hotel Imperial’s Turkish Bath (was hit with wet steam, dry steam, had a massage on a marble slab, was hosed down, then rested). This was followed by another practice session with the Japanese. That evening she ate dinner at Gennaro’s in Soho with the Gotts. After that she “wandered around Piccadilly” until ready for a snack at the Cumberland Hotel.
On the morning of April 2—the U.S. Team would be arriving in Scotland sometime today—she had a body massage. Then lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and after- wards she “shopped with Ty.” That evening she had dinner at a Hungarian restaurant with Mr. Goto (presumably Koji Goto, the current Japanese Team Leader, and the man who at the 1971 World’s would be called “the King of Nagoya”). Then she came back to the Royal and “spent the evening in the lobby.”
Earlier, word was that the U.S. Team would have “four days practice” before the World’s. But their Cup matches started on the 6th, and the U.S. players, surely tired from their long trip, weren’t going to get any practice until sometime on the 3rd. Not the best preparation for trying to win World titles—not, say, like England’s Rowe twins who a couple of years earlier in preparation for big matches were reportedly practicing 4-5 hours a day and getting 10-12 hours sleep a night.
Swaythling Cup Play
There were a record 33 Men’s Teams entered in this year’s Swaythling Cup—which meant, since there were three round robin groups of seven teams, each group looking to include an eighth and ninth team, there were preliminary ties. Twelve teams divided into three round robins would each produce two qualifiers that would become the eighth and ninth teams in the three A, B, and C groups competing for the title. To decide the Champion, the winners of the A and B groups would play, then the loser of that tie would play the C winner, and finally the C winner would play the winner of A and B. This was a format that many would complain about because it left open the possibility of a three-way tie…and what then? No explanation was printed in the Program or on the Result Sheets.
The U.S. opened on Apr. 6 with easy ties—shutouts against Wales and Israel. But then they themselves were shut out against Defending Champion England. Both Bukiet (whose overall record was 10-3) and Miles (13-1) lost to Bergmann (Miles’s first loss to Richard in Swaythling Cup play); Bukiet and Somael (6-5) lost to England’s 1953 “Player of the Year” Aubrey Simons (also called “one of the most awkward players in the world”); and Somael lost to Leach. (This English team and Yugoslavia’s Vilim Harangozo had been the four semifinalists in the Nov., ’53 Manchester English Open, won by Bergmann.)
Of course we blitzed Pakistan, and scrambled by Austria 5-4 when Miles won all 3, Hazi lost all 3, and Bukiet, dropping just the one match to Ferdinand Schuech, scored over Heinrich Bednar and Heribert Just. But France (losers to the English and the penholder Brazilians) defeated us 5-2—though Miles knocked off both Guy Amouretti and World #7 Rene Roothoft, who’d won the French Open over Sweden’s Tage Flisberg. Italy we beat 5-1, and Brazil too—with both Bukiet and Somael getting the better of Hugo Severo, though the South American Champion and his teammates played with sponge rackets that had disgusted and demoralized the Frenchmen. Thus, our 5-2 tie record tied us with France and Brazil for 2nd place in our A group (today our 7-6 match score would break the 3-way tie in our favor).
Brazil’s use of the sponge racket, by the way, was mirrored by Cuba’s. Roberto Gomez, the Cuban Champ, would write in Topics that the “first six or seven players” there were using sponge, and that others not using sponge couldn’t win a single game from them. He also said that some of those spongers thought that playing with hard bat was “more fun” (TTT, May, 1954, 3).
Before the Japanese men began play in their B group, John Macadam, a reporter for London’s Daily Sketch, wrote that Japan hadn’t sent their best players. Perhaps he was thinking of former World Champion Hiroji Satoh? Or “Cannonball” Fujii, who, on losing in the Singles to Roothoft in Bombay, was reportedly led away in tears? Macadam said these new players used “old-fashioned, square, sponge-rubber surfaced bats,” and “equally old-fashioned pencil-holder grips.” But he obviously didn’t know much about table tennis and for sure hadn’t seen the Japanese Souvenir Program available—its Mount Fuji cover, the high-up shot of this white mountain, suggesting spiritual focus, ascension, success.
In this Program all the Japanese players, all penholders, are profiled. And how young they all are! (Average age said to be 20.) Ichiro Ogimura (uses sponge), who’s only been playing six years, is not, as Macadam says, #7 in Japan, but #1; Yoshio Tomita, who in 1950 was Japan’s High School Champion, and in Jan., 1953 won a major tournament in Tokushina, is currently #2 in Asia; Kichiji Tamasu (“uses 5 m.m. thick, very soft rubber, different from Ogimura’s sponge) was #3 in Japan last year; and Kazuo Kawai was 1953 Japan’s Intercollegiate Champion.* One did wonder, though, where Toshiaki Tanaka was.
Apparently these visitors have the right physical characteristics to devastate their opponents. Alan Hoby in the Apr. 11th Sunday Express describes the Japanese as a “slim, small-boned race” who “wed whipcord wrists to dainty footwork,” and hit “with hurricane force.” Playing with what Macadam called “antiquated” equipment, Japan won the B group over last year’s runner-up (this year’s pick of the Evening Standard reporter) Hungary, 5-2. As local commentator Sam Leitch noted, the Hungarians do not like the sponge racket, do not like the Japanese services, and do not like the “Yoosh!” that’s shouted by their opponents after every winning point. The Hungarians, though also bothered by some joker-spectator repeatedly shooting off a toy pistol, finished 2nd with a 5-4 win over Rumania who’d just gotten by India 5-4.
Over in Group C, Czechoslovakia was 5-3 stronger than Yugoslavia who came 2nd with a 5-3 win over Sweden.
In the 3-way play for the title, young Japan beat old England—with 21-year-old Ogimura barely outlasting 35-year-old Bergmann, 19 in the 3rd (this after leading 17-8), and defeating Leach and Simons (both 32) decisively in the 3rd. Tamasu lost to Bergmann and Leach, but Tomita balanced with wins over Bergmann and Simons.
Afterwards, England went down to Czechoslovakia, 5-3. Andreadis won all three, and though Bergmann took two, and though Leach stopped Ladislav Stipek, he lost to Vaclav Tereba, so when Simons couldn’t contest for a win, English fans were again disappointed.
However, even England’s most partisan supporters couldn’t help but agree that the final between the Japanese and the Czechs was a real crowd-pleaser. Again Andreadis, who’d been World runner-up to Sido last year, took all three, and Stipek had a gutsy 15, -20, 21 win over Tomita...but that was it, the Czechs came up one short.
Oh, oh, some fussiness about the Japs having taken injections during play (to banish “tiredness,” they said). But it’s not the English officials who are complaining. As reporter Peter Laker tells us, they’re cool:
“‘So what?’ is their indignant cry…and rightly so. After all, players of almost every country in the world have indulged in a similar practice for years.
Glucose and other stimulants, in both liquid and tablet form, are frequently taken by players needing to replace lost energy.
The fact that the Japs take their ‘rejuvenator’—a Japanese preparation called metapolin—through the medium of a hypodermic syringe is nothing to get excited about. [One local reporter said that “Metapolin” is not a name known to the British Pharmacopoeia Commission. Speculation was that it might be a “Benzedrine preparation.”]
A former England international told me yesterday that he once injected himself with ether to cool the system and stop a nose bleed five minutes before a match. [Remember that bad nose bleed Marty Reisman once had at the Toronto CNE tournament? Oh, if only he had known about ether and known how to get it, eh?]”
Laker then goes on to quote an indignant Ogimura:
“If you saw us in training you would know we have no need to take drugs. We run, skip and frog jump, for our secret is top physical condition. Our preparation is very strenuous, but we do not take drugs.”
In a 1967 article in which he’d champion Condition Training, Ogimura would describe an instance of how, young and ambitious, he’d not relied on any established physical training program for table tennis, but, picking and choosing, had decided for himself:
“I believe that I was the first table tennis player who incorporated running, skipping and gymnastics routinely into his daily program of training….I did this work in a boxing gymnasium, which lay on my way to school. [In the May, 1967 issue of Topics (see page 12), Butterfly’s Dick Yamaoka shows photos of a player squatting on the balls of his feet doing what I think is that frog jump Ogimura mentioned, only Dick calls it ‘Usagitobi’—‘rabbit jump’—a Japanese training method to develop thigh muscles and springy legs.]”
In 1971 Ogimura, who one day would become President of the ITTF, confided to U.S. World Team member Olga Soltesz, whom he’d coached in Japan, how he used to be “afraid to carry his paddle on the streets because people would make fun of him.” Amazing, but he said he didn’t begin playing table tennis until he was 16 (some refused to believe this—said it was impossible for one to start at such a late age and achieve what he did). But, self-conscious teenager that he once was, he certainly learned how to be a Champion, and his bottom-line advice to Olga was, ‘You must overcome yourself before you can overcome your opponents.’”
Overcoming obstacles was not a problem for Ogimura. But, granted that he and his teammates were physically prepared to play their best, they still had to get to the World’s. And that meant somehow being able to pay—what the Japanese TTA couldn’t—the travel costs from Tokyo to London.
At the 1989 Miami U.S. Open, Ogimura would tell Bob Morsut, then Editor of Topics, that the Japanese Association had promised that if the Team players themselves could raise $7,000 they would be sent to this ’54 World’s. So:
“…Ogimura and some friends from his table tennis club spent three months collecting 10 yen—three-cent contributions from some 40,000 commuters at railroad stations in western Tokyo. They raised half the funds the association required and the rest came from school teams and relatives. With only two dollars left over for pocket money Ogimura journeyed to Wembley….”
The meticulous preparation, the persistence, paid off. As did “Ogi’s” independence. Table Tennis Historian Zdenko Uzorinac tells us Ogimura “was not completely happy in his first matches and, after assessing the playing conditions, he decided to change his 1 cm sponge-covered racket for another with sponge only 2mm thick” (Table Tennis Digest, Feb., 1995, 3). And Swedish aficionado Jens Fellke says that, contrary to his coaches’ directives, Ogimura insisted on playing non-stop very aggressively, arguing that if he won “51 per cent of the decisive smashes” that’s all he needed. For Fellke then, Ogimura was a “fearless visionary who tactically and with uncompromising determination refused to give way to convention.” Certainly everyone would agree that with his 20-1 record he led Japan to its first Swaythling Cup victory.
The U.S. men, ready now for the Individual events, hadn’t cause yet to hang their heads. In addition to our actual Team members, three other players from the States competed (the Qualifying Draw at this time being open, more or less, to anyone)—N.Y.’s Bill Gunn and Irwin Miller, and California’s Michael Fiedler now living in Heidelberg, Germany where he’s a med student at the University and plays #1 on the Heidelberg A Team in the State League. (Ursula Fiedler was the name of the #3 woman in Germany—she was Michael’s wife?) None of the three made it to the Men’s Draw proper, though Miller came within one match of doing so—lost to Alan Shepard, one of the 90 players from England entered in the Men’s. Later, however, in the Consolation’s, Fiedler won four matches—one of which was over Harry Venner, a member of England’s Swaythling Cup Team.
U.S. Team Captain Hazi understandably lost his 1st match to Kichiji Tamasu who would go on to beat France’s Michel Haguenauer (Jubilee Cup winner over Hazi) before losing to the strong Rumanian Toma Reiter in 5 in the eighth’s (earlier, the 20-year-old Reiter had eliminated Leach 3-zip). Bukiet, down 2-1, did very well to oust World #4 Aubrey Simons, whom he’d lost to in the Team’s, then continued strong by defeating Yugoslavia’s Josip Gabric in 5 to reach the quarter’s. An article by Table Tennis Review’s “Man-on-the-spot” described Bernie as “a rather pedestrian player with no especial gifts” (Championship issue, 9). Were he to say that to Bernie at the Sarajevo World’s 20 years later, he’d really be on the spot.
Somael, with two easy matches, reached the round of 32 before losing 19 in the 4th to Hungary’s Laszlo Foldi, earlier a winner in 5 over Germany’s formidable Conny Freundorfer, English Open Junior Everything winner and Consolation Champ here over England’s Brian Merrett. Miles also reached the round of 32 with a fine win over Yugoslavia’s Zarko Dolinar, destined to be World runner-up next year. Zarko, a penholder when on the attack, had a skull and crossbones on the back of his racket accompanied by the signatures of his world-class victims (one of whom in the Team’s had been World #3 Andreadis). Before he and Miles went on court, Dolinar said drolly, “You might as well sign now, Dickie.” After Miles beat him three straight, Dickie kidded back, asked Zarko, “You want to sign my racket?”
Perhaps it was on this particular day that Dick was getting, I’d guess you’d say, mixed press. A local paper doing cartoons of players caricatured him with a haw, haw macaw-like beak, and touted him as such a hard hitter that “Not even Senator McCarthy will tackle him.” But an on-the-scene reporter kept seeing Miles without his whiplash forehand and said he looked merely “average.” Against lefty attacker Tomita, however, what could Dick do but chop, chop, chop, and trust that, having often beaten him in practice play in Tokyo, he could do it again here. But after being up 2-0, Dick could no longer challenge and, with Tomita on serve taking the first 5 points in the 5th, it was all over.
Here’s writer/aficionado Leslie Woolard describing in Table Tennis what the Japanese do before they move like lightning to their backhand corner to take their long forehand strokes:
“All the Japs serve or receive service from a crouching position, free hand touching the bat which is held penholder style. The knees bent and in a constant flexing which gives an impression of the body being on springs….
The Jap service (nearly always backhanded) is what such players as Bergmann, Andreadis, Sido, Stipek, and Tereba [Miles too?] found most difficult, particularly when first encountered. It was very difficult, they all said, to anticipate the length, direction, spin or power and any uncertain return to the Japs was promptly killed or smashed.
Tamasu, before serving in doubles, nearly touches the floor with his free hand, indicating to his partner, sub rosa, the direction of intended spin” (May, 1954, 167).
The quarter’s brought Bergmann, who in his 1st match had been 2-1 down to Germany’s Helmut Hanschmann, against Tomita (who’d earlier knocked out the Czech veteran, the 8th seed Adolf Slar). After splitting deuce games, Richard won in 4. Flisberg arrived in the quarter’s via a two-down comeback against Stipek, then eliminated Roothoft to join Bergmann in the semi’s. Andreadis (11-1 in the Team’s) just continued his unimpeded way to the semi’s over Reiter. Ogimura 18, 11, 13 embarrassed Defending Champion Sido in the 8th’s, then went out and dropped the 2nd game to Bukiet. For decade after decade Bernie would tell the story of how, when it was all tied up at 1-1, play on the next table…on the adjacent tables…on all the nearby surrounding tables…on all the tables in the Hall…had stopped—the players in a hush to watch…(and do I have to say it? watch, or, more likely not, Bernie get 11, 11).
As Bergmann prepares for his semi, let’s hear from reporter Leitch a word or two about his opponent:
“Sad-faced Tage [Flisberg], 38-year-old pre-war ace, quit the sport 12 months ago, disgusted with his mediocrity. He was tempted to return and play with a sponge bat instead of the old rubber-covered one.
…[Recently] he handed out 21 defeats to the top British pair, Richard Bergmann and Johnny Leach, who toured Sweden….”
And, sure enough, the Swede, maybe not so sad-faced, beat Bergmann in 4. Ogimura, meanwhile, had 24-22 in the 4th uneasy moments with Andreadis.
Said Sido before the final, “If Flisberg wins, every young player will change to sponge. It will kill the sport as a spectacle.” Sido wanted the sponge banned—but though at the ITTF Meeting there was talk of doing that, no action was taken. (Unfortunately, our U.S. representative, Historian Peter Roberts, staying there in London with his niece and nephew, couldn’t attend the Meeting, apparently because of ill health.) Reportedly, ITTF President Ivor Montagu said, This sponge is going to be “a test of character—some [will] lose their heads [over it] and get cross.” John Gale of the London Observer quotes Montagu as saying, “If people have the guts…they will beat this sponge.”
Roy McKelvie in the Apr. 15th Daily Mail had this comment on the final, won by Ogimura, 7, 12, -18, 10:
“The silence as they hit was quite eerie. Perhaps it detracted from the match as a spectacle, but, anyway, the play was of only moderate quality.
We saw only patches of Flisberg at his best. Generally he had no idea how to take Ogimura’s service, and if he did return it the opening was there for a kill.”
Another reporter said that only in that 3rd game did Flisberg’s famed backhand click. “Thereafter the Japanese ace’s steaming forehands and superior spinning technique dominated the play.”
Said our own Pauline Robinson, holding her nose, as it were:
“…you should have seen the reaction of the spectators…when the horrible sponge against sponge, Flisberg and Ogimura, match was played. The entire match lasted 18 minutes for four games, including the five-minute rest, and was strictly a serve-and-hit-one-ball-for-the-point game. Sponge against regular rubber is bad enough, but sponge against sponge!!! UGH! That’s what will happen if it isn’t banned…” (Newsletter, Apr., 1955).
Quite surprisingly it was not our Team members who distinguished themselves in Men’s Doubles—Bukiet-Somael lost their 1st match, 3-0, to England’s Jack Carrington/J.A. Hunt, and Miles/Hazi lost their 1st match to the Rumanians Toma Reiter/T. Harasztosi—it was our lesser lights that shone. Michael Fiedler paired with an Englishman, Peggy Franks’s husband Ron Hook, and advanced out of the Qualifying stage to the 1st round where they finally succumbed, 25-23 in the 5th, to the Saarland Germans Hoffman/Michel (Saarland won the 6-team round robin Swaythling Cup Consolation Pool). Meanwhile, Miller/Gunn’s play was nothing short of exemplary: they won three Qualifying matches, then two more matches before they were beaten in the round of 32 by the English pair, D. Burridge/J. Head.
With the Japanese players’ spring and speed apparently slowed in tandem, their forehand barrage apparently silenced to where it wasn’t a barrage at all, the winners in the Men’s Doubles were the Yugoslavs Dolinar and Vilim Harangozo. They defeated expected opponents Ogimura/Tomita in the semi’s, then—and these were surely unexpected opponents—Barna and Haguenauer in the final. Barna had said back in November that the Men’s and the Mixed Doubles matches here would be his last—at 42 he was retiring. “I’m going to miss table tennis play,” he said. “I like competition. It’s stimulating.” I guess so—the aptly named Victor had been playing in World Championships for a quarter of a century.
Team Capt. Hazi sent a belated Report to President Shrout, dated May 8, 1954, which was later found in a Topics file on Jan. 21, 1955 after Shrout had left office. In it he has good things to say about the U.S. men. He praises Miles as being “a real champion on and off the table,” says he was “highly regarded this time by the English officials,”
and suggests that Shrout might “let him know that we were proud of him.” Bukiet, he says, was also “a good asset.” Somael, he thinks, “was playing far below expectation,” should have done better in his “easy draw.” But was Foldi who eliminated Freundorfer really that easy? In the most recent Hungarian Championships he beat Sido. Tibor does acknowledge, though, that Johnny was “quite under the weather the whole tournament.” He concludes that the sponge “was giving us and all others real trouble.” He’s afraid that “the game will lose its fine qualities if something is not done about it.”
As for what’s giving Tibor even more trouble, well, he did something about it. Never mind all the cigarette cases he’s won in his lifetime, on his way home to the U.S., he’d throw his last pack of Chesterfields over the ship’s rail and would never smoke again.
Corbillon Cup Play
Since there were 25 Women’s teams, the A group, which the U.S. was in, had a round robin of 9, the B and C groups 8. On the first day of play, we beat lowly Switzerland, 3-0, then of course lost to Japan, 3-0, then, oh, lost to Egypt 3-2 in an exceptionally close tie: Robinson split her matches, as did Neuberger who lost to Khadiga Abou Heif, 18, -21, -19 but beat Fawkia Elshiaty, 13, -21, 20. However, Leah and Pauline dropped the doubles, -20, 19, -19. On the 2nd day of play, the U.S. lost 3-0 to Austria looking almost like beginners, but zonked Denmark and knocked off Belgium 3-1—with Leah, who was certainly not at her best in these Cup matches, losing to sponger Mary Detournay and winning 18, 20 rather shakily over Josee Wouters. We finished by beating Saarland and losing 3-2 to Yugoslavia when both Robinson and Shahian split matches, and lost the doubles in 3. Our (4-4) record tied us for 5th-6th with Yugoslavia (who beat us head to head).
Hazi’s Report on our women was not favorable:
“…I never would blame anyone for losing, or not playing as well as expected, but unfortunately our ladies in the team lack every [sic: for the idiomatic all] team spirit. All their efforts is petty chivalry between each of them [sic: he means they have petty jealousies]. They cannot overcome these, even during the team matches. [After the World’s, during, I believe, a one-game exhibition, Leah notes that because (losing?) she insisted on changing ends when the score reached 10, Millie, at game’s end, refused to shake hands with her.]
I do not wish to make any disciplinary action against any of them, though they were giving quite a bad time for me. I will, however, in a short time give you my personal opinion of the girls, and some suggestions which you can use in any way you wish.” [These, if they were ever sent, I’ve no record of.]
In the A group, Japan came 1st, with the loss of only one match. Second-place went to Austria. Their defensive star Pritzi beat the Japanese #1 Kiiko Watanabe, 19 in the 3rd. Linde Wertl, who’d won the “Yugoslavian, Austrian, English, French and Belgium” Opens, and who with her 19-in-the-5th win in the French had given World Champ Angelica Rozeanu her first loss in four years, fell to Yoshiko Tanaka, winner of the 1950 All-Japan Championship.
The B group was won by England, 3-1 over both Czechoslovakia and Wales—with Eliska Fuerstova Krejcova –13, 19, 20 besting Kathleen Best; and Audrey Bates –12, 22, 18 rallying to down Diane Rowe. There was a 3-way tie for 2nd. France was routed 3-0 by Wales. The Welsh were trounced 3-0 by the Czechs. And Czechoslovakia was beaten 3-2 by France (when Libuse Grafkova fell –20, 21, -15 to Claude Rougagnou, and both Grafkov and Krejkova lost to the French Champion Christiane Watel).
In the C group Hungary beat the #2 finisher, the Defending Champion Rumanian team, 3-2, when 17-year-old Eva Koczian (that’s Josef’s sister) upset World Champion Rozeanu, and both Koczian and Gizi Farkas Gervai beat Ella Zeller.
In the 3-way play for the title, Hungary opened with a 3-1 win over England. Instead of playing Diane Rowe in the singles, the English played 15-year-old Ann Haydon. Why? (That’s what a lot of people wanted to know.) Ann lost to perennial Singles finalist Gervai, now 28, who also beat Ros Rowe. Ros came through with a win over Koczian. But, surprise, the Rowe twins were upset by Koczian/Agnes Simon, 18, 21 (after being up 18-13).
That defeat did not necessarily knock England out of contention, for word had gotten round that if England could beat Japan, and Japan would beat Hungary, there’d be a 3-way tie—broken by most matches won. (Many people thought this an awkward format, for it did not insure a definitive Saturday night final.) And, lo, a happy result for the spectators—for, against Japan, the Rowe twins split matches: Diane beat Tanaka deuce in the 3rd, lost badly to Watanabe; Ros beat Watanabe, 22, -18, 16, lost to Tanaka, -17, -20; and in the doubles, the twins won 17 in the 3rd. Hence, a bloody good win for Merrie England.
In the final, the just beaten Japanese saved the day. They beat the Czechs 3-1 when the 19-year-old Watanabe downed both Gervai and Koczian in 3, and then teamed with Japan #2 Fujie Eguchi to wrest the doubles from Koczian/Simon. In the 3-way tie, that gave them 5 match wins, whereas the English and the Czechs had only 4.
Thus, Japan won both the Swaythling and Corbillon Cups—were able to duplicate what only the U.S. had done…17 years earlier.
Pauline Robinson returned home to write in her Topics column how much we’ve fallen behind the world competition. In the matter of service, for example (with the ITTF’s new service wording, players needn’t throw the ball up “vertically”), we Americans tend to initially “feel out” our opponent, start slow. The Japanese, on the other hand, “serve hard, fast, and deadly from the first point,” and are immediately ready to belt the ball, for they know it’s “impossible to return a good many of their serves,” or, anyway, return them well. Worse for us, too, that on the Wembley tables chop didn’t take.
Her assessment of the Europeans is exactly the same as Marcus Schussheim’s on his first visit to the World’s 20 years earlier. Pauline says, “[They] play the game so that every single ball has a purpose and the ball is never just returned—it is always going somewhere and doing something as it goes.”
The Singles were really a disaster for our women. Leah, seeded #6, opened against the English Corbillon Cup 20-year-old Kathleen Best who’d taken out Germany’s Hanna Imlau in straight games. Later, at the end of May, after her Special Services exhibition duties were over, Leah would apparently extend her vacation opportunities—would turn up in Lausanne for a Grand Prix tournament. There she’d win the Mixed with Bergmann, but in the Women’s would lose a 14, 15, 16 final to this Imlau. With hindsight then it would appear that Leah might have a 1st-round serious problem. And, alas, though she got off to a 2-0 lead, she ended up losing 19 in the 5th. Best went on to best Scotland’s 1949 and ’50 World Women’s Doubles Champion Helen Elliot, as well as France’s Rougagnou, before falling in the quarter’s to Tanaka.
As for the other U.S. women…Shahian won her 1st match from England’s Yvonne Baker in 5, then lost in 4 to France’s Watel who’d go on to eliminate former Champ Trude Pritzi. Robinson right away drew Eguchi and went down 3-0. Marianne Bessinger scored a 3-game total of 13 points in her opening Qualifying match. But Hazi said Marianne was good company. And, after the World’s, she (and Bill Gunn?) took a side trip to Limerick where in the Irish Open she and her partner got to the final of the Women’s Doubles.
In Rozeanu’s side of the Draw, England’s Ann Haydon won a gritty –21, 15, 22, 22 1st round match against Agnes Simon, then took a game from the Defending Champion herself who didn’t drop another on her way to the final. (Simon would knock Leah out of the Consolation’s before finishing runner-up to Krejcova.) Watanabe, who’d been down 2-0 to England’s Peggy Franks in the 1st round, was upset by Austria’s Fritzi Lauber deuce in the 4th. In the semi’s, Rozeanu defeated Koczian, 3-0 (from 20-15 down in the 3rd), after the Hungarian had advanced over Lauber and Ros Rowe in 4.
Gervai, the #2 seed who’d been in 7 straight Singles finals, was beaten by Eguchi. Maybe those 10-15 cigarettes a day Gizi was allowing herself took some small toll? But maybe not, ’cause otherwise she had to be in good health—had told the press that she played basketball, got plenty of sleep, and drank only water. In answer to a reporter’s question, What makes a world champion? she answered, “Will-power comes first, then lots of practice and the sporting life—by that I mean that you should not have too many distractions with wine, dancing and men-folk.” Eguchi then eliminated Di Rowe, 3-0, before falling (some said she took a dive) in the semi’s to teammate Tanaka who’d earlier beaten Linde Wertl, 19 in the 4th.
Daily Mail reporter Roy McKelvie writing about the final said that after losing the 1st game Tanaka “left the arena [sic: for court?] to get a drink.” She then won the 2nd game. But down 2-1 and being buried in the 4th, she “was continually looking round at her teammates in the arena, as if searching for guidelines or encouragement.” Rozeanu’s strong defense against this Japanese penhold attack, coupled with her one-ball putaway—“She always knows which ball to hit for the point maker,” said Robinson—allowed her to win her 5th straight Championship.
In the Women’s Doubles, our Marianne Bessinger and her pick-up partner had no chance of advancing. Also, Robinson/Shahian were beaten right off by Kozian/Simon. Leah paired with Helen Elliot to defeat Jack Carrington’s wife Elsie and Barbara Milbank, 19 in the 4th , but then, up 2-1, they lost in 5 to English Cup players Best and Haydon who afterwards, with a sensational –17, -24, 18, 17, 19 semi’s rally against Rozeanu/Gervai, reached the final. Di and Ros Rowe struggled a little, but in their semi’s dispensed with Eguchi/Watanabe, 18 in the 4th. In the all-English final, the twins celebrated their 21st birthday by winning the title –19, 10, 19, 20. A photo in the Apr. 15 Daily Mail showed Di holding the W. J. Pope Trophy and Ros steady behind the large cake ornamented with a table and rackets that had been donated “by the people of Hastings, where the twins did their training.” They also received from the English TTA tortoise shell dressing-sets.
In the Mixed, Bessinger played with her friend Gunn and they were quickly beaten by a Danish pair. Somael/Robinson lost in the 1st round to the Indian team of Thackersey/Parande. Miles/Shahian went out immediately to Dolinar/Wertl. Only Hazi/Neuberger offered resistance. They weren’t in the match with the eventual winners Andreadis/Gervai, but they did eliminate two good teams—Kawai/Hideko Goto, 17, 23, 19, and Roothoft/Watel, 18 in the 4th. The talk of the Mixed was the 1st-round upset of the 1952 and ’53 Champions Sido and Rozeanu. Perhaps they got careless, then tightened? Ladislav Stipek/Krejcova rallied to beat them –10, -16, 20, 11, 19.
Trying to get to the semi’s but failing were Ogimura/Watanabe—they lost in 5 to Stipek/Krejcova. However, the Czechs also failed to advance—were beaten, 19 in the 5th, by (maybe he shouldn’t retire?) Barna and Ros Rowe, who then were stopped by Andreadis/Gervai. On the other side of the Draw, England’s Harry Venner/Ann Haydon made an inspired –12, -17, 20, 12, 18 comeback to down Hungary’s “hitting machine” Elemer Gyetuai and Imrene Kerekes. But then they were totally numbed by Dolinar/Wertl who in the semi’s were eliminated by Tomita/Eguchi. The final went to the Europeans, 23-21 in the 4th—the Japanese weren’t quite ready yet to take that title home.
Post-World’s Tournaments Abroad
Following the World’s, many of the players immediately went to Berlin for the German Open, where the winners were…Men’s: Vilim Harangozo—over World Champ Ogimura in the quarter’s, and Bergmann in the final. Women’s: Eguchi over Wertl, 10, 8, 8. Men’s Doubles: Harangozo/Josip Vogrinc over Kawai/Tamasu. Women’s Doubles: Watanabe/Eguchi over Wertl/Pritzi. Mixed: Ogimura/Watanabe (after being down 2-0) over Kawai/Goto
After the World’s, Michael Fiedler speaks of being the lone American at an International tournament in Paris—says that after he beat the French #8 Cafiero he lost in the round of 16 to Sido in 4. That’s the same Cafiero who next year, on switching to sponge, will make the semi’s of the World’s! Though Sido couldn’t avenge his one-sided loss to Ogimura in London—he lost to him in the final here in Paris too—he did the next best thing. He finished off Kawai in 4 in the quarter’s, and Tomita in 5 in the semi’s. Who knows? He might learn to like playing against penholders, spongers, tricky servers, might even begin to boom out an expletive or two of his own.
A description of the May 2nd matches in New Delhi caught one reporter’s funny bone:
“The Tarzen Trophy for athletic ruggedness, won earlier this year by a New York man who broke his arm on a golf course after damaging a rib in a basketball game against a girl’s team, was taken away from him yesterday. It’s being sent to New Delhi where the carnage in a table tennis tourney is terrible. World champion Ichiro Ogimura of Japan injured a knee in winning a semifinal [he beat Kawai-17, 13, 9] and had to ask postponement of the final against Y. Tomita, who won his semifinal by default when opponent H. Tamasu suffered a bloody nose while trailing [12-18] in the first game.”
Leah, before ending up in Switzerland, had done some sightseeing along with her required three weeks of Army Special Service exhibitions in England—for example, she’d taken a bus to Woodstock to tour Blenheim Palace, home of the Duke of Marlborough; had gone to Stratford-on-Avon to see a production of Othello; and visited the Christchurch mansion in Ipswich. In the 1954 World Championships issue of the Table Tennis Review, columnist Sam Kirkwood said he’d bumped into Leah, and, “despite her beatings, was as cheerful, chatty and ebullient as ever.” She showed him her diamond-encrusted, crossed-rackets table tennis ring and “positively bubbled” as she said “how happily married” she was, how blessed with a “lovely” husband and home (32).
So, on that note, back home we’ll go.
* Kawai, after this World’s, we’ll not hear anymore about. But almost 50 years later, when U.S. player J.C. Williams of Frostberg, Maryland visited the Tamasu Butterfly Training Center in Tokyo, who should come out to practice with and even compliment him on his play, but this same Kawai. Presumably all these years he’s had a table tennis life. (See USA Table Tennis, Jan.-Feb., 2003, 43.)