USA Table Tennis

History of USA Table Tennis Volume 12

CHAPTER NINETEEN 

            1983: European Table Tennis (Players Play Hundreds of Matches a Season): European Club Cup; European League; German Bundesliga. 1983: Scott Boggan’s “Europe, a Psychologist, a Different Game.” 1983: Eric Boggan Misses Opportunity at $30,000 German Grand Prix. 1983: Early Bundesliga Results. 1983: Eric on “My Bundesliga Debut.”           

Readers of these volumes will learn much more about table tennis and what it means to be a serious player if they follow the information that’s coming to them from abroad. I’m going to begin this chapter with an explanation of the European Club Cup, the European League, and the German Bundesliga (Timmy’s, July-Aug., 1983, 15). 

European Club Cup

            Each country in Europe, large or small, has its leagues of clubs that play among themselves. Naturally at the end of the season a winner emerges in each country.  These winning clubs, one from each country, then play in a single elimination draw (at different times and venues across Europe). These “European Club Cup” matches are played Swaythling Cup style (three players, nine round robin singles matches possible, five needed for a win). Eventually from all this play an overall Champion emerges.

            This past 1982-83 season, the Women’s Cup was won by Hungary’s Statisztika Budapest team 5-1 over Yugoslavia’s STK Mladost Zagreb team. The Men’s Cup by West Germany’s Heinzelman Reutlingen team (Sweden’s Appelgren, Germany’s Stellwag and Seefried) over England’s Douglas, and Germany’s Wosik and Erdmann). These winners do not have to qualify, are automatically eligible, to defend their title next year among the club winners from each country.

            In West Germany only the ten First Division Bundesliga teams battle it out to see who’s going to represent the county in the European Cup. This is a little tournament unto itself for the “German Cup,” and is APART from the regular First Division Bundesliga play of 18 ties a season. The 10 First Division teams, unseeded, represented by only three not six players (six play in regular Bundesliga ties), are drawn into single elimination play and the winner is called the German Cup Champion and is eligible to represent Germany in the European Cup the following season.

            This past 1982-83 season, the winning German Cup Men’s team was Simex Julich (Sweden’s Carlsson, and Germany’s Huging and Plum). So next year there will be two German teams in the European Cup men’s competition—Defending Champion Reutlingen and this year’s qualifier Simex Julich. 

European League

            The European League consists of four Divisions—a Super, First, Second, and Third Division. There’s a system of advancement and relegation (the last team in the Super Division falls to the first Division and is replaced by the first team in the First Division—and so it goes down through the Divisions.

            There are eight teams—one team, composed of National Team members to a country) in both the Super and First Divisions, a usually less number in the struggling-to-survive lower Divisions. Each team plays every other team both at home and away in yearly alternating locations.

            Each tie consists of seven matches: five singles (including one women’s match), one men’s doubles, and one mixed doubles. All seven matches are played to their conclusion, for while they all might not be significant in any one tie, they might be in a tie-breaker among contending teams.

            This past 1982-83 season, Yugoslavia won the Super League (while Denmark was demoted); France (promoted) won the First Division (while Norway was demoted); Spain (promoted) won the Second Division (while Portugal was demoted); and Guernsey (promoted) won the Third Division.

            As readers will note, a world-class player competing in his/her various league, international and major and minor Open and Closed Championships is kept continually busy playing hundreds of matches a season. His life is truly that of a professional. And club owners, tournament promoters, and Association organizers try hard to work out non-overlapping schedules that will allow him a maximum of play. Is it any wonder that come summertime the professional player needs to take a table tennis vacation, or, better yet, a vacation from table tennis? 

German Bundesliga

            The best league in Europe, in the world, for the play-for-pay professional is the German Bundesliga. It consists of three Divisions—and generally, though not always, the best players, getting by far the most money, are to be found in the premier First Division. Since only one foreigner may play on a team, there are invariably more eager superstars than available teams.

            The club teams make up the First Division and players’ salaries, depending on world-wide prestige and length of service to a club, range from $12,000 to $32,000 for a 7-8-month commitment.

There are far more players—four different leagues of 10 teams each—in the Second Division. Though there is usually not so much sponsorship money here, U.S. stars Scott Boggan, Mike Bush, and Charles Butler, helped it may be by their individual club’s willingness to find them cheap but decent housing, have financially survived in such leagues for several years.

The Third Division has far more players yet—a sprawling 10-20 leagues—and of course less money to give its less skilled players.

Since a system of advancement and relegation is practiced in all three Divisions—the two last-place teams from the First Division fall to the Second Division come the following season, and the two top teams from the Second rise to the First (and so similarly in the Second and Third Divisions)—some clubs with ambitious sponsors are willing to pay far more than most for good players. Hence, this coming season, famous world-class competitor Surbek and Orlowski are playing for clubs in the Second Division, and World #13 Park Lee Hee is even competing in the Third!

During the season—which is roughly from the beginning of September (players are expected to start training in August) to the beginning of April (with a mid-season break in between), every team in the 10-team First Division plays every other team twice, once at home and once away. In the larger Second and Third Divisions, post-season determining play-offs are necessary for advancement and relegation—for example, in the Second Division, where there are four leagues, 40 teams, the four winning clubs come together and play a round robin to determine who advances to the First Division. (Relegation to the huge Third Division is decided by NESW geographical play-offs.)

            Regarding the composition of a Bundesliga team and the format for six-player singles and doubles play, Scott Boggan explained that back in Chapter Four, so I’ll not repeat it here. Instead, we move on to another of Scott’s European articles: 

“Europe, a Psychologist, a Different Game” (Timmy’s, Sept.-Oct., 1983, 10; 24):

            “At a quarter for 1 and ½ innings and Beck’s $2.75 a bottle, where else can you be but JFK? We do up the brew with the pound of pistachio nuts I’d bought for the flight. Soon, with the Yankees womping ‘em, I’m tired from the brewskies, stuffed from the nuts; again the sudden depression hits me—the reality of missing American sports, the beach, and my friends…I crash out.

            ‘Last call…Flight 392…Last call…’

            ‘Get up! Get up!’ Eric is yelling at me.

            We run, catching our non-refundable flight just in time….

                                                ***

            At the Frankfurt Airport, Eric stands waiting for our bags while I, as usual, have to set out to get our money changed, find the basic info on train and subway schedules, and arrange for us to be picked up. We are a seven-hour train ride from Aachen, my new home.

            I put 40 cents in the phone, thinking the call will be at least that since we’re so far away. When your time runs out, the phones gives ya only about four seconds to frantically jam more ‘kerns’ in, then, if you’re not prepared, you get the old cut off. I’m prepared as hell—have all sorts of change at the ready.

            Huging answers, and I tell him our time of arrival.

            The telephone only gobbles up seven cents, but, as usual, I forget to push the green ‘Hold’ button so I can get credit for the next unknown guy who follows me. It’s something like holding open the pay-toilet door for whoever comes along—something I have never experienced, just heard about via my mother.

            With the phone ordeal over, I turn around and there’s a cute little black girl.

            ‘Does this take these coins?’ she asks doubtfully, showing me a pair of dimes.

            ‘Shit,’ I think. I fish for another mark piece and dial the number for her. I think of taking her two dimes and how easy it is being a kid. Then, wanting quickly to put an end to my Boy Scout service for the day, I scuttle off thinking, ‘C’mon, for sure she doesn’t have an uncle in Germany.’

            Eric and I take a little trip…to the train station. I’m conscious of being the typical American—with an A’s hat and cut-off jeans. A German says to me, ‘Oh, New Balance’—in reference to the sneakers I‘m wearing.

            We make our train by seconds, thanking the man who reopened the doors for us.

            As the train moves along, stops, openings come up and Eric and I move like African ants through the first class and eating compartments so we can get to the second (ping-pong) class and camp in on a few seats. Since we can’t fit my enormous back pack into our compartment I have to leave it outside near the toilet. The paranoia of continually checking on it gives me an excuse to walk by some beautiful babes. I never talk to them though—chicken out.

            After we change trains, we have only an hour to go. Our new car being empty, we go for Bowie: ‘Yes, I’ve read the morning papers telling me that you’ve made money. If you think I’m gonna call, then think again. Though I dress in rags I’m richer. Though I eat from tins, I’m healthier. Though I live in…Too bad I’m not losing sleep…Too bad I’m not losing sleep, my friend.”

                                                            ***

            Huging parks. I open the car door and see ‘Yankees Raus’ on the building. The students want the Americans out—but, tough shit, I’m here.

            We walk into Huging’s mess of an apartment. It looks like he just moved in, had a party, and it’s the next day. We shower, then go out. Although we’re tired, we can’t sleep. We try to grasp Deutschland reality. Eric calls Huermann and makes arrangements for Franz to pick him up tomorrow. In a few hours we’ll be miles apart. We talk about Baseball—especially Winfield’s run production. We try to play a game of gin but quit.

            ‘Our life sucks,’ says Eric.

            I think of the emotional Eric and how people’s lives are full of ups and downs. The life of the ‘Traveling Sportsmann’—Do most people have any idea what that’s all about? Do they ever think about it…realistically? Every year I tell Eric, ‘This is my last year in Germany.’ Eric complains about his thin sponge, his too light racket, and how he has the early Bundesliga jitters. Eric’s bombed out and finally gets to sleep. I sweep clear a space, lay my sleeping bag down, think, and then dream.                             

                                                            ***

            The five-day Julich Training Camp starts with a 30-minute jog, then breakfast is served  by the mother and Treasurer of the Club, Frau Repp, then there’s 20 minutes Auto-Genetic Mental Preparation (I’ll explain later), then 15 minutes warm-up, followed supposedly by two hours of pong, then more Mental Training. After a shower, there’s lunch for $1 at Mensa University and a few hours relaxation time—often spent at the local pool. The afternoon session begins with more Mental Preparation, then running. I compare this Camp with Westfield and realize why I’m here. At nights we do different things—twice going out to restaurants, once seeing a soccer match, and once going to a party.

            The practice overall is good. Bundesligers Huging, Plum (Ploom), and Nolten are the best—with a 2400 player from the North and a few other local mad loopers popping in for a session or two. Among us are the juniors from the Julich II and III teams—including a 13-year-old Belgian National Team Member, Jean-Michel Saive [destined at one time to be the #1-ranked player in the world, as well as the 1998 U.S. Open Champion].

            Several years ago the cat from the North had played on the same club team as Mike Lardon. ‘What’s he doing now?’ he asks. Just in case any reader happened to miss Lardon’s last article in the May-June Topics, Mike, who had some head problems of his own in the Bundes Republic is presently, not to say ironically, into… ‘Studying Sports Psychology.’ ‘That’s just right for him,’ said the Northerner—‘he needs it.’ [Well, if you see or hear Dr. Lardon 25 years later, you know ‘He got it.’]

            For practically not touching a racket since the World’s, I was playing remarkably well and had a strong first four days. It’s such a mental thing playing physical t.t. There’s a huge difference between running after balls while doing footwork drills with Nolten than trying to play Eisner a match at midnight after a few Heines. It’s also important who you train with. Obviously it usually benefits you to play with the best possible players, but one’s ability isn’t as important as one’s attitude. Sometimes you have to play with someone who walks after the ball so slowly, or who constantly bitches, or, even worse, with someone you dislike. Once I had to play with someone who in my book had pages full of all these negative characteristics. I remember one time, after this jerk had hit the ball on the edge of his racket, he had the nerve to complain about his old sponge.

            The people who train hard, usually the good players, always arrange for partners fairly early, sometimes an hour or even a day before the scheduled practice. The weaker and usually the youngest players wait until everyone else is on the table, so the trainer will pair them up, or they’re caught looking at an unenthusiastic twin.

            The sessions go smoothly—with the exception of a father complaining to the trainer that his bitchy son is always playing with some other weakling and never a good player. Huging backs up the new trainer. ‘Don’t bother us,’ he says to the father.’ The man says something back about how Huging’s always yelling while playing. He and his son will never understand sport.

            One thing is weird at the Camp: our first experience playing under the new ITTF rules. It’s so difficult for the choppers, not only because they have to play with two different, undeceiving colors, but because the new service rules won’t allow them to start under the table, as all choppers naturally like to do. As for me, it’s a little strange at first because of my right-at-the-table-top backhand serve, but after two weeks I get the hang of it. To see everyone having to serve differently from what they’re used to is funny, and in the beginning when I go to serve, for the first time in 15 years of serious playing, I hesitate and have to concentrate so much…just to serve the flippin’ ball.

            Practicing is all so much fighting. Some sessions come easy but others are hell. If something’s going wrong—you’re playing bad, or people are getting on your nerves, or you’re tired, or your body aches—it’s hard to fight it out. To get good you gotta fight for everything and push yourself. I do well the first four days, but on the fifth I’m a goner. I can’t move or get a ball on the table. I just feel tired and dried out—I simply can’t play the game. Finally I quit, thinking under these conditions it’s better not to play at all.

            I sulk until, as I continue watching others train, I see someone chop-killing to Huging’s lob, see the kiddies are playing on two tables lined up lengthwise, see Nolten and Plum are playing left-handed. Now I don’t feel so bad. Our goofing off is normal after four days of hard practice.

            Now, about the physical exercises at this Camp. All I can say is that I often showered early. First of all, I think it’s ridiculous that everyone runs so much. Because I’m a little behind in my rigorous running program, I passed on the running, thinking it would tighten my calves so much that it’d affect my playing, even my training, especially those important footwork drills. One junior hurt his leg running and was worthless when it came to playing. Others were limping around as if they needed crutches. They also did muscle training with heavy medicine balls on benches. It all looked so dangerous to me that I lamed out. I’m convinced the kids do so much other than playing Pong that they can’t give their best at the table.

                                                            ***

            Between the practice sessions I walk and shop through Julich. I see so many recognizable faces, especially those of people who’ve worked in these same places for years.

            On entering one store, though, I suddenly feel lost. Hey, I say to myself, it’s gotta be the same store—and, ah, yes, it is, but all is changed. It’s open in the afternoon now, and has computerized scales and larger refrigeration compartments. It looks more ‘American.’ What a pity Germany, like a lot of other places, will eventually lose its culture. Everything will be so mechanized that you won’t know what country you’re in except for the written language.

                                                            ***

            At Mensa, Nolten, who has a home in Canada, complains in one breath about the falling mark, speaks in another about how he recently milked a cow. Nolten, like other Germans I’ve talked to, says that it’s easy to make initial contact with Americans but hard to have friendships with them.

            Before practice starts again I see some friends of mine—they’re just hangin’ out. They’re not the usual Germans but ‘outsiders’ who live more like Americans—drinking and smoking. They’ve just gotten back from Spain and talk about the new legalization of marijuana and how cheap it is there, especially during Happy Hour.

            I ask them what they’re doing now.

            One says, ‘Nothing.’

            The other says, ‘I’ll work in a movie theater for a month. Change the films and drink beer.’

            ‘Then what?’ I ask.

            ‘I don’t know. We’re going to Spain again.’

            ‘Oh, yeah?’ says the other one. ‘I didn’t know that.’

            They agree to go to Spain again in six weeks.

            Another friend of mine has a part-time job bartending at the local pub. I’m amazed at how he and these other people survive. How they have money. Once I was talking to this bartender about my former roommate Plum, and I remarked how he, Plum, was saving a lot of money.

            ‘What for?’ my friend asked.

            I was totally stunned. Never before had I heard something like that. ‘Maybe he doesn’t always want to work. Or for some security reason.’ Surely if I made as much as Plum, I would save. I’m conservative compared to these people.

            After a while I need a break for a few hours from ‘I’m loopin’ bad,’ and ‘You wouldn’t believe the shot I made in Berlin.’

            The madman who’s driving me away from Mensa is flying through the windy German farm roads with the music blasting. Is he already drunk? God, I hope not. If he is, not being a town t.t. star like Plum, he could be in a lot of trouble—I mean if we live and he gets caught by the police.

            Amaretto and Hendrix.

                                                            ***

            I’m in the mood to keep my spirits up—that is, to drink. And the movie ‘Hair’ is on at 2:30. But my dedication takes the bottle out of my hand and puts the racket in. I walk in 10 minutes late to practice accompanied by a girl I’ve just met on the way in, a partier who has to give another player a message. One of the guys smiles, another winks and says, ‘So that’s where you’ve been, Boggan.’ I don’t bother explaining…and never trained better in my life, was totally psyched up.

            Feeling pretty good about my performance and the Camp, I’m looking forward to the party at the Big Cheese’s house. Everyone’ll be stuffing themselves at the Barbecue taking advantage of a Club tax write-off.

            My ex-roomie Plum says, ‘I hope there’s a barrel of beer instead of bottles.’

            At the party, I decide that when I get the chance I’m going to interview the Club psychologist. (Perhaps his emphasis on Auto-Genetics will be of as much interest to you readers as anything else I write?). The Auto-Genetic training we’ve been doing 20 minutes four times daily is meant to be pleasant relaxation as, preparing mentally for matches, you shut up your excess energy, keeping (along with of course a very positive head) just what you need, no more, no less, for competition. The idea is to get yourself under control. During these 20-minute sessions we lie down on rubber mats, arms flat out, eyes closed. We hear the soft music and try to relax our muscles. After the first 10 minutes of only music we begin to hear the psychologist’s hypnotic voice.

            “Our hands are heavy,” he almost chants. I lie comfortable and loose. I am calm and free, my head is light, my hands are so heavy I can’t move them any longer.

            It goes on like this as he talks or brings out tapes. The tapes vary…there’s one for tennis: ‘My serves are fast and consistent. My shots are hard and on the white end lines.’

            As the music gets louder and faster the last few seconds, we tighten our muscles, take a few big breaths, stretch, and open our eyes.

            How, as these sessions go on, did I do?

            The first session was my best. I really did feel my hands getting heavier, and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this guy doing to me?’

            After that the Training was just pure agony. I’d be o.k. for about eight minutes, but then thoughts would go whizzing around in my head like a ball on a roulette wheel. ‘When will it be over? I’ve got to scream, scratch, yell, get the hell away from here. I hate this. I’ve got to flippin’ move. This is bullshit. I hadn’t practiced for three months and now I’ve come to Germany to lie down?  I should be practicing. This is ridiculous. This is driving me insane.’ Often I’d be in a partial state of mind—as when it’s late and I’m half falling asleep in front of the TV. During this state I’m apt to breathe heavily.

            At one session strange animal noises came out of my nose.

            ‘You Pig!’ yells Plum. ‘You snored! We pay this guy 2,000 marks for one week and you snore!’

            ‘But why do we have to relax like this so often?’

            ‘Maybe because he gets paid so much.’

            Everyone tried amazingly hard at these sessions—more so than in the regular training. Everyone, that is, except me. I was the worst—just seemed to have no aptitude for it.

            Some Auto-Genetic interviewer I was gonna be. Since, at the 11th hour, I still didn’t know what questions I was going to ask this psychologist, I sought some advice from my old friend Plum.

‘What should I ask him, Plummie?’

            Plum, practical as ever, answers, ‘Ask him the questions you should ask. It’s better than asking him dumb questions.’

So, o.k., could I be any more at the ready? I seek out my subject:

PAWEL ROTKIEWICZ

            Age 52

            Speaks 9 languages

            Professor at the University of Warszawa (Warsaw)

            Psychologist for the Polish Olympic Team

            Sport Psychologist for the Yugoslavian TTA

SCOTT: During a table tennis tournament, when should one do this Auto-Genetic Training?

PR: First, practice, then go away and do it, then come back and warm up 10 minutes before your match.

SCOTT: I think a problem in American table tennis is lack of motivation. There are so few major tournaments, and I find it hard to get psyched up for some of the smaller ones. What can I do?

PR: You have to live in Europe then. A second alternative is to set goals—to win every set under 10, say. Also, you have to improve your mental toughness by competing in other sports. To improve in t.t. in the U.S. you must compete in other sports.

SCOTT: (The man is obviously insane.) Do you recommend t.t. as a sport for the American masses who like ‘American Sports’—football, baseball, basketball, golf?

PR: For small communities it’s fine.

SCOTT: (What the hell does that mean? I think I need a game plan, otherwise this is gonna be a horrible interview. I’d better change the subject.) Hey, man, what kind of tunes ya into? (Maybe if I just take it easy, try to be casual and natural, even with this academic type, questions will come?)

PR: Most music I play is from the Classical or Baroque periods with a modern orchestra.

SCOTT: How does this help the player?

PR: Brings extreme relaxation and improves concentration.

SCOTT: I can last maybe 10 minutes with your Auto-Genetics. Is that long enough?

PR: Everyone should meditate for as long as he feels comfortable. It varies.

SCOTT: I saw a football team all getting together and praying before the game. What’s that all about?

PR: This praying works similar effects. It helps the players concentrate and motivates them. I find it a very good, very successful technique.

SCOTT: Do you think athletes should be married or have girlfriends?

PR: Everyone should ask himself this question—but he is probably the only person who can answer it. It varies from individual to individual. But a regular schedule and order brings best results. It’s very important for athletes to be in bed early.

SCOTT: In summer, players often take a break for a month. Is this a good idea?

PR: Everyone needs a rest from his sport to refresh himself mentally and physically—to regain his motivation and cure all his injuries. But one should keep active during the break-time through other sports such as running or swimming.

SCOTT: In team sports should the team often be together? Like going to the movies together, for example? I’ve heard that some teams have so much strength because they’re always together. On the other hand, I’ve read that the 1969 Knickerbockers had totally different personalities and were rarely together off the court—with the result that on the court their machine was in high gear. Which do you think is better?

PR: Sometimes if a team is always together they often get sick of each other. Bur before important games they should be together. In general, give them a chance to be together, but let them decide.

SCOTT: What qualities should a good coach and a good team member have?

PR: The coach should have a psychological interest in his students. He should be able to help solve their problems, have a keen sense of justice and fair play, and help each athlete’s personality grow. He should be friendly and often talk with the purpose of fostering positive thinking. He should never talk nonsense. He should be a real friend and be informed about young people. A bad coach doesn’t understand people and is very uneducated. As for the player, he’s as strong a player to the team as his personality-worth is to the team.

SCOTT: What is the responsibility of a team member?

PR: He should have normal behavior patterns. This means not doing crazy things just to get attention. He shouldn’t take drugs and only occasionally should he have one beer, no more.

SCOTT: Many American athletes take drugs. If one were injured and couldn’t train, could drugs help him?

PR: It’s possible they could—but only for a short period of time. Drugs are bad and will damage the athlete’s health. In the long run, he loses. Usually everyone learns too late that it’s wrong to take them and that they just weren’t aware of the consequences. The brain and nervous system are destroyed. It’s also unfair to win using drugs—it’s cheating.

SCOTT: In many societies, especially Asian, players learn that cheating is part of the sport. Once our Danny Seemiller was playing a Korean and Danny got an edge. The Korean wanted to give Danny the point but he first had to get approval from his coach and teammates. They wanted him to take the point, but he didn’t want to cheat, so he was in a no-win position. What should he do?

PR: He must play fair.

SCOTT: Tell the coach that—it doesn’t work that way in his society.

PR: Then his society is unfair.

SCOTT: During tournaments I often eat little. What about nutrition?

PR: During training and competition proper nutrition is very important. Improper nutrition leads to health damage.

SCOTT: I read in the German papers that during the recent World Track and Field Championships the Germans lost one particular event (that black Americans won) because of a mistake in tactics—they’d started too fast. I don’t think the Germans had a chance of winning—whatever their start. Do you agree?

PR: I read that too. Nonsense. They lost because they weren’t black. Blacks are faster, have better physiques, quicker reactions, and stronger muscles. They have a genetic advantage. They don’t have advantages in all sports, but most.

SCOTT: Often players for some reason take a long break, usually during the summer. Sometimes they come back with the attitude, ‘How can I win? I haven’t played for two months and this guy is training four hours a day.’ How can the player just coming back still motivate himself?

PR: Try to be realistic about your situation, but also try to inspire yourself to be better than you were last year.

SCOTT: Are good athletes smart?

PR: They have a kind of high intelligence and a very high social intelligence. The athletes who play games like basketball, table tennis, or volleyball more so than, say, track and field athletes. To be on top you need to be intelligent.

SCOTT: What are the characteristics of table tennis talent?

PR: Fast reaction, precise coordination between hand and eye, and strong motivation—the will to win. This last characteristic is very important because in t.t. one often loses at 19 or 20.

SCOTT: How can one pick children as future t.t. champions?

PR: Have all sorts of championships according to age and area and pick all the winners from these groups. This is the simplest system. Give the winners encouragement. You need these tournaments very early because t.t. often gets the athletes who aren’t good enough in other sports. In Europe, if a boy can’t make it in soccer, then he’ll go for t.t.

SCOTT: What do you think about girls in sport? [The focus of this question isn’t clear. Does Scott mean to ask, for example, Should girls interested in sports have the same aims as boys? Do they have the same opportunities? More opportunities now than in the past? Or any number of other pertinent questions. PR’s answer that follows doesn’t seem to connect with what we sense Scott was asking. But Scott doesn’t follow up.]

PR: Girls combine well with a lot of good things. If girls disturb your career in t.t., then you shouldn’t be a t.t. player.

SCOTT: Often I think young athletes are bothered by parental pressure. Do you agree?

PR: The coach must discuss this problem with the parents. The best arrangement is when parents give the child lots of freedom. If you’re really something as a player, then you’ll demonstrate it. In sport you must give the kids initiative to do what they want.

SCOTT: Are you married?

PR: Yes.

SCOTT: Do you have any children?

PR: Yes, a son—a two-time World Champion in an event with running, swimming, and shooting.

SCOTT: Was he adopted?

PR: No, home-made.

SCOTT: Hmmm, two-time World Champion. Not bad. Did you push him?

PR: No.

                                                ***

After the interview is over—maybe I didn’t do so badly after all?—I seek out my friend Plum again. ‘Plummie,’ I ask him, ‘What did you think of this Camp?’

‘Well,’ he says, ‘there were so many weak players here, it’d have been more fun with better players.’

Poor Plum. He’s not on the best side of the new German trainer. He knew they’d have to run a lot at the first camp of the season, so, shortly before, he began running each day to get ready, and on the third day, he hurt his leg. When the trainer saw him he was irritated and said, ‘Next camp you had better be prepared.’

As no one was talking to the Belgian garcon at the moment, I go over and ask him what he thinks of the very emotional-at-the-table American players he’s seen.

‘They’re crazy loud fighters, and funny on the table,’ he says, ‘but off the table they’re very nice.’

Since my French is horrible I don’t have much to say and we end up trapping a wasp in a glass. We are amazed at how long it’s fighting and trying to get out.

C’est un guepe American,’ he says.

After an hour we can see him weaken: apparently he’s no longer able to fly. Still, the fighting goes on until suddenly a German lady, who is doing—what else?—some cleaning, picks up the glass, and, zingo, away goes the fighting wasp.

‘Like an American,’ the Belgian says again.

People are starting to leave, and as I am going to be sleeping on the sofa, I begin to get reasonably drunk. Hitting the Bacardi and coke again, I end up talking with the mother of the house and her 17-year-old daughter who after every drink is getting prettier and prettier. As the 17-year-old and I are talking ever more closely, the mother doesn’t take too kindly to it and remarks how ‘late’ it is and how ‘very tired’ she is. In another 15 minutes she is ‘exhausted.’ Without another word she begins busying herself moving our table over into the corner and takes my chair. I lose this game and go to bed on the sofa.

                                                ***

On the weekend, we start shaping Huging’s dump into an apartment. Since Bert and his mates are only going to practice once a day for the next two weeks and I want to play more, what can I do?

Go to Sweden of course. Why not? So I call two Swedish friends, am welcome, and go out and get a special U-26 ticket, and very soon am on my way….”

 

[We’ll catch up with Scott, or he with us, a little later. We move, for the moment, to connect with Scott’s brother, Eric, via two articles by Engelbert Huging and Eric’s own account of his play at the Bundesliga season opener (Timmy’s, Sept.-Oct., 1983, 11). 

$30,000 German Grand Prix

            “The German Grand Prix,” Engelbert tells us, “was organized by the Schildkrot Table Tennis Company under the patronage of the Deutscher Tischtennis Bund (DTTB). It featured a week of play in which 18 world-class players traveled in two round robin groups to seven different cities in North and South Germany in order to try to qualify for the ‘Final 8’ single elimination tourney Oct. 2 in West Berlin. (There was also an elimination tourney for the unenthusiastic non-qualifiers Oct. 2 in Hanover.)”

            Here’s Engelbert to give us the Results of this Grand Prix play:

            “In the ‘A’ Group were: Jonyer, Lindh, Surbek, S. Bengtsson (and a later sub for him Mesaros), E. Boggan, Plum, Wosik, Carlsson, and Prean. In the ‘B’ Group were: Saito, Douglas, Secretin, Orlowski, Park Lee Hee, Klampar, Bohm, Huging, and Stefco.

            Grubba was invited but had to decline because the Polish government wouldn’t allow him to go to any competition in West Berlin, which it doesn’t recognize as belonging to West Germany.

Stefco, who took the injured Ulf Bengtsson’s place, and who’d defected from Czechoslovakia during the 1981 German Open, would eventually beat Park Lee Hee in the final of the non-qualifying tournament.

How is it possible to get so many good players together—almost as if the ’88 Olympics were here and now? Because Schildkrot has good connections with European players, finds it easy to make contact with them. Of course these professionals were lured by prize money--$30,000 to be exact. Every player was guaranteed $600 for participating, and the top players found ways of making more. They maneuvered one-week contracts with different firms (Coca-Cola or a t.t. company, for example), wore the requisite training uniforms or patches, gave interviews, whatever. Thus some made 2,000 marks extra.

The four Group ‘A’ qualifiers were (1) Carlsson (who was very strong the whole week), (2) Lindh, (3) Surbek (who beat Boggan in two deuce games), and (4) Boggan (who beat Prean, handicapped a little by the new two-color rule?).

            Eric, I must point out, was undergoing a new experience. Unlike the supportive home-club spectators in Bad Hamm, audiences all over anti-American Germany were booing him whenever he became emotional—whether he was complaining on losing a point or shouting encouragingly, psyching himself up, on winning a point. They just didn’t want to hear the American McEnroe.

            ‘Boo! Boo!’ they’d shout. ‘Boo, John!’ 

            ‘I was so embarrassed,’ said Eric, ‘so disappointed by the spectators, even so afraid, that after a while I stopped yelling.’

            The four Group ‘B’ qualifiers were: (1) Klampar (whose marvelous topspin instinct won him match after match), (2) Douglas, (3) Saito (who has a great will to win), and Bohm.

            Earlier, the German Federation had asked Bohm, the German Champion, for his passport because he needed a visa to Poland for a European League match. But he wouldn’t give it to them—said that he just might make the final 8 in the Grand Prix and so would need it to go to West Berlin. Well, he did need it—just beat out Orlowski and Secretin (who was always receiving wild applause from the 500 or more spectators in every city he’d play).

            In the final at Berlin, before 1700 spectators, Annegret Steffein, the main organizer of the tournament, said that the only good quarter’s match was between Boggan and the on-the-run penholder Saito, the Japanese #1 and World #5. Eric, leading 18-12 in the deciding third, was beaten, he said later, because he ‘didn’t hit enough at the end.’ Too bad, possible big swing: First prize was a car—a Honda GLX. Second prize a Harley Davidson bike. Third Place another car—a 2-CV Charleston Citroen. In other quarter’s matches, it was Douglas over Carlsson, 2-0; Klampar over Surbek, 2-1; and Lindh over Bohm, 2-0.

            In the semi’s, Douglas, down 8-2 in the third, beat Lindh; and Klampar, placing rapid-fire balls from corner to corner, easily beat Saito.

            In the final, though, Klampar was unbelievable. Unbelievably bad. He put up hardly any resistance at all—lost two straight in 11 minutes. Did he want the Harley Davidson bike? Douglas of course was a happy winner. 

Bundesliga Results:

            The first round of the German Bundesliga started Sept.9th. Now, after four rounds, favorites coming through were ATSV Saarbrucken (4-0), PSV Dusseldorf (4-0), SSV Reutlingen (3-1), and TTV Grenzau (2-1-1). Both Sweden’s Ulf Carlsson (TTC Simex-Julich) and England’s Des Douglas (PSV Dusseldorf) have undefeated Singles records.

            Reutlingen should also be on top, but, unbelievably, with World Cup Champion Mikael Appelgren playing for them, they didn’t show up for their third round match against TTC Athena. Whoever was in charge of the Reutlingen schedule believed the match was to have been played on the 25th of September, but he was wrong—the match should have been played on the 24th of September. The League rule says that the match is counted as a 9-0 win for the home team—in this case, TTC Athena. Thus Reutlingen’s ‘loss’—their 0-9 mistake—could later, should there be teams tied, decide the whole Championship.

            Saarbrucken had to sweat a little against the GW Bad Hamm Club (Eric Boggan’s Club). Since Hamm was not thought a strong team at all, it’s perhaps a little startling that they could extend powerful Saarbrucken to a 9-5 three and a half-hour match.

            Eric himself will speak about this match, but in general he was content with his opening play, especially since he was still getting used to his new racket. It may be news to many that the players in Germany are all already playing with different-colored rackets—they’re not waiting for the Jan. 1st mid-season deadline. Also, they’ve taken notice of the new service rules. Only problem is: nobody knows how to interpret them—not the players, not the umpires, not the referees. [Problems are?] 

            Eric had given the following short interview to Huging for the German magazine, Deutscher Tischtennis Sport that Rufford Harrison saw and sent to SPIN (Oct., 1983, 27): 

HUGING: What are you expecting from your stay in Germany, Eric?

ERIC: I think it will be positive for my personality. Since I can’t speak German, I’ll probably be alone more often. But as happened last year in Sweden, this will help me know myself better,

HUGING: Do you think you can adjust to your new life quickly?

ERIC: I’m not coming to fight against German customs. You’ll see: I’ll fit in and find my way about. And another thing: if I’m a somewhat stronger player than my new teammates, no one will be able to criticize me for being a prima donna.

HUGING: For you, what is the attraction of a pro league?

ERIC: I admire the pros in basketball. When people come to me now, it gives me more faith in myself and my game.

HUGING: What role does earning money play for you in coming to the Bad Hamm Club?

ERIC: Now I’ll work hard and train a lot: I’ll satisfy the spectators and myself. Then I’ll find earning money just fine.

HUGING: What results are you expecting for yourself?

ERIC: I know that there are many good players in the Bundesliga. This can only be an advantage to me.” 

Eric’s Bundesliga Debut

            The following excerpt comes from a letter Eric sent home after his first match in the German Bundesliga: 

            “…To tell you the truth, I can’t believe how good everything is here. All the players are nice guys and the weaker players are cool too. I’m not pressured by anyone.

            It’s Thursday now and Monday through Wednesday I’ve trained six times and so I feel good. I feel fit and consider myself an athlete, which is what I want to be. When I was younger I loved sports—loved to watch as well as play. Now I love to participate and feel my muscles stretching out and building up. I’m trim around the waist and stronger in my legs and upper body. Tomorrow we play Lindh and Nolten from Bremen who lost 9-2 to powerhouse Dusseldorf. Both Wosik and Douglas beat Erik. I’m really psyched.

            On Tuesday I had a bad problem with my left foot. Below the big toe on the arch there was a callous underneath that had some bad juice in it. Whenever I put weight on my left foot, there was instant sharp pain. I went to a doctor and he thought it was best to leave it be. I’d had the same problem in Colorado Springs, and a woman who really knew her sports medicine cut in, and out came water and pressure. My foot immediately felt better. I used my own judgment with the German ‘doktor’ and told him to cut it. No problem—I trained that very evening.

            I still need to be more disciplined—usually I have ½ liter of beer at night but that’s not bad. Being an athlete I know what I can and can’t do. I CAN’T do what some of my friends do.

            I enjoy my days in Hamm. To train, have a good shower, eat, rest, train some more—that’s a good daily regimen….

            I was very tired for my first Bundesliga match but came out of it with a victory over Stellan Bengtsson; and my doubles partner, Mathias Horing, and I beat Joseph Bohm and Peter Engel, 2-0.

            I won the first game against George Bohm, the German Champion for the last two years, but was really shaky the last two games, lost them both. (My good friend and team member Bernd Sonntag—‘he can really bring it’—beat this same Bohm, though, two straight).

            The spectators in my home club, Hamm, are unbelievable. Stellan had me 6-0 and 9-2 in the second—I’d made easy mistakes and the situation that game looked grim. But suddenly I caught a forehand, cracked in a winner, and the crowd erupted. The people were beautiful. They weren’t crazy wild, they just wanted to root for their home player. I loved it!

            I almost couldn’t believe it. Usually the crowd is against me, but here in Hamm MY PEOPLE really pumped me up. Down 10-3, I caught Stellan at 10-all, and went on to win in straight games.

            All in all, after flying 20 hours in two days, a respectable showing.”

            O.K., now to Toronto for more International play…