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History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 14: 1985-86

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 

            1985: USA Resident Training Program (RTP) Aims to Develop World Class Youth. 1985: International Coaches/Officials Speak Out on Youth Development. 1985: European Tournaments. 1985-86: Liguo/ Henan Li Ai and Carl Danner Talk About “Style.”1986: RTP is the Place to Be. 

Henan Li Ai tells Yim Gee (SPIN, Dec., 1985, 11) how excited she is as National Development Coach to be working at our Resident Training Program in Colorado Springs where she’s committed to developing a world-class table tennis program for the U.S. In speaking of her most promising youthful RTP charges she says, “we can expect some of those 13 to 18-years old to be world-class in five years; some of those 8 to 12 years old to be world-class in 10 years.”

            She elaborates on each of the following elements she believes are necessary to produce world-class athletes: “(1) Coaching staff and athletes. (2) Technical and physical training. (3) Foreign and domestic practice partners. (4) Domestic and international competitions. 

Coaching staff/athletes:

            With limited funds, limited coaching staff, and limited juniors available, we have started out with a small RTP—five boys and five [then, with Rebecca Martin leaving, reduced to four] girls; a coach; a resident camp manager [with Lenny Hauer’s resignation, a replacement has to be named], and a sports psychologist.

            Ideally, the coach will come to have a thorough understanding of each athlete’s techniques, temperament, and mental and physical strength, and so be able to take advantage of the trainee’s uniqueness. Long-term residency requires a resident manager to take care of the athlete’s daily activities. His/her job is to help keep the athlete disciplined—see he/she eats right, has study time, and rests appropriately. As for the sports psychologist, he can offer often needed assistance to the young person living away from home in new surroundings and feeling pressure on and off the court. 

Technical and physical training:

            Li Henan recalls how, before the 1961 World Championships, she (and her husband Liguo) were two of the 108 elected to train at the National Training Center in Beijing, and how, out of this super-camp and its uninterrupted training, world champions such as Guo Yuehua, Ge Xinai, Zhang Li, and Cai Zhenhua were born. Perhaps the RTP in the U.S. will also produce champions? 

Foreign/domestic practice partners:

            Good practice partners will help a trainee advance faster, for he now has the advantage of being with a partner who can maintain a longer rally, hit higher quality shots in terms of more spin, speed, and wider angles, and provide unexpected variations in play. Especially needed are foreign practice partners to teach trainees how to cope with, then imitate, the powerful loops of the Europeans and the lightning speeds and deceptive serves of the Asians. We might take as an example the Nigerian Team. In 1972, they trained in China, then hired Chinese coaches and practice partners to work with their team. As a result, the Nigerians have won the U.S. Open Team Championships the last four years in a row. 

Domestic and international competitions:

            For a young athlete, a tournament is the place where he/she can acquire experience in competition, learn to adapt to different styles of opponents, develop will power, and try new techniques learned in training. Also, against serious opposition he can better assess his own strong and weak points, and then back home can revise his personal training program accordingly. By going to international tournaments, trainees get first-hand knowledge of current world-class trends and techniques, and the more they understand and absorb, the more incentive they have to train harder, set higher goals for themselves, increase their successes, and gain more confidence.” 

            At the Gothenburg World Championships, Sue Butler had interviewed several notable players and officials and some had thoughts regarding junior play (SPIN, Sept., 1985, 22). Here’s former World Champion and current ITTF Vice President Ichiro Ogimura:

            “In Japan we have just started a National Championship for boys and girls under nine. It was played on lower tables (10 cm. lower) and we used a lighter and softer ball. We also prohibited the use of inverted rubber to avoid too much spin technique. The rackets were the same size, but we had longer rallies in which the main element was placement with basic spin. It was very successful. There were hundreds of children from all over Japan and we are going to adopt the kind of table that is convertible (from 76 cm. to 66 cm). Also, we are trying to make a bigger ball that will have more air resistance so the speed of play will be reduced.”

            Former Swedish Men’s Coach Tomas Berner had this to say:

            In Sweden we have no problem getting the girls to start, but the problem is how to keep them. We are trying to have them practice one hour, the first half hour of which is hard practice, but then the rest of the time is fun. It is very important that they can play and enjoy the game in their early years. Also, children must see top stars because they are very good at imitating and it is much better to see the actual varying play than to hear about it from a trainer.”

            Current Swedish Coach Hans Kron says he likes the emotional intensity and fighting spirit of the American juniors. “Why then don’t they win more?” asked Sue. “I think,” said Kron, “because they don’t have the tradition. You have Schiff, McClure, Pagliaro, Miles, Reisman—but they are too old. You’ve had a large gap in the development of the sport in the U.S. After your early successes, you came very late into top table tennis. Twelve years ago if someone had asked me, ‘How good is the U.S.?’ I would have laughed and said, ‘They don’t play.’ You have gone way up quickly. But now you are experiencing bad gaps in the strength of your juniors.”

            Sue asked Kron if he were worried about gaps in Sweden’s own junior development, and he replied, “We are worried about that. We take the best of each age group and keep track of their development so we don’t have gaps in incoming talent. But we don’t have as many juniors as we used to and I don’t know what the reason is.”

            Finally, ITTF President H. Roy Evans has some thoughts:

            “In Asia there is not much Junior tournament play—that is, organized U-17…U-14 events. But you should see the European Junior Championships.  There is the most extraordinary play among the U-14’s. In the U-17’s you expect it, but the younger players are quite remarkable.

            I think junior competitions are important. Unfortunately, there is always a lot of attrition. If out of 100 juniors who start, you get 10 to stick with it you’re lucky.

            Table tennis is an extremely difficult sport to play, and we are suffering in Europe through the upsurge of badminton and squash. Badminton is a much easier sport to play. Technically, neither badminton nor squash have the problems of speed and spin that table tennis has. Many youngsters won’t bother with our sport because of the difficulties.  The way I think you can interest young players is to have a lot of tournaments and have some goal for them to aim at, so that a child of 12 can say, ‘I’m a champion.’”

            USTTA Vice-President Mel Eisner devotes an Up Beat column (SPIN, Oct., 1985, 23) to the importance of “togetherness” between parents and children. One way of doing this of course, as Mel has done with his son Brian, is to share participation in table tennis—both beginning at home, then graduating to travel and tournaments. “Special time” with son or daughter is “built in with this sport, is automatic.” 

            “Though it is autumn now,” begins this unsigned International Sports Press Association (A.I.P.S.) article on the 1985 European Youth Championships, “it may be a well-founded statement that the Dutch Table Tennis Association is going to close its most successful year yet. The Dutch Women’s Team won a bronze at the World Championships in Gothenburg; Vriesekoop leads the European Women’s ranking list; and the Dutch cadets captured gold in the doubles at the European’s. A very nice present for the 50-year-old Dutch Association. Congratulations!

            Thus, it was not by chance that the Dutch Association staged the 28th European Youth and Cadet Championships and did everything in their power to make this outstanding event a great success for all.

            The athletes of 25 nations were put up in two fine hotels; and a quiet environment and colour TV-sets in all the rooms provided relaxation for the players in their time away from the tournament. Unfortunately, though, it took them half an hour by bus to reach the sports hall from the hotels. And then they were forced to spend the whole day in the hall, even if they had matches scheduled in the morning and then not until evening. A less fine hotel nearer to the sports hall, and transportation service back and forth would have been better, more relaxing. Also, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to restore the ‘day off’ at these European Youth Championships. The Team event, for example, could have been staged in a shorter period of time without any extra expense for the host nation.

            These, however, were only minor faults; mentioning them is rather a piece of advice for the hosts of forthcoming European Championships. These faults were by no means detrimental to the success of this year’s continental tournament for the young—at which one witnessed tough fights, major upsets, good playing, and a poor showing by the umpires.

            Prior to the tournament, everyone heard with satisfaction that the umpires were going to ban illegal serves and punish the coaches who interrupted games by shouting directions to their players. At last, we thought, one tournament where the rules of behavior would be observed. But we were let down badly. Many players frequently indulged in wrong services. The umpires called only balls hit from behind the back. The inconsistent behavior of umpires upset both players and coaches, and resulted in a lot of problems. In the Boys Team semifinal match between Yugoslavia’s Lupulescu and Sweden’s Andersson, the umpires brought in, as if with the sound of a gong, the Expedite Rule. This, however, was not due to any untimely error by the players, but was clearly a mistake on the part of the umpires, since almost no ball exchanged consisted of more than two or three hits. Coaches kept on shouting to their players almost after every point—and the umpires only seldom warned them for this.

            The matches themselves were hard fought. In the preliminaries, Sweden lost to Romania, but then Romania lost to the Czechs who were beaten by the Swedes, allowing Sweden to advance to the semi’s. There, thanks largely to Andersson, the Swedes downed the Yugoslavs who afterwards, on defeating Russia 5-1, finished third. In the final, Sweden defeated France, 5-3.

            In the Girls Team event, Hungary, the heavy favorite, fell in the quarter’s. The title then went to the Czechs who stopped Sweden 3-0. Russia came third with a 3-0 win over Romania.

            In individual play, England’s Carl Prean won the Boys final over Romania’s Calin Toma, 13, -16, 19. Coming third with a win over Russia’s Vladimir Markinkevic was Romania’s Vasile Florea, destined 11 years later to win our U.S. Open. In these individual events, 80% of the favorites could not make it to the semi’s. There were almost 20 boys with the same chance for medals. Who would have thought prior to the tournament that not one of the following players would reach the semi’s: Lupulescu and Primorac (YUG), Von Scheele and Andersson (SWE), Gatien and Monnessin (FRA), Grman and Braun (TCH), and Fetzner and Rosskopf (FRG).  Boys Doubles went to Yugoslavs Ilije Lupulescu/Zoran Primorac over the Czechs Milan Grman/Josef Braun. Czechs Petr Javurek/Tomas Janci finished third over Italy’s Lorenzo Nanonni/ Francesco Manneschi.

             The Girls final was won by West Germany’s Olga Nemes over Yugoslavia’s Vesna Ojstersek, 9, 14. Third went to Romania’s Kinga Lohr over West Germany’s Katja Nolten. As with the Boys, upsets abounded and at least 10 girls were in contention for medals. Those who did not make it to the semi’s were: Batorfi (HUN), Masarykova and Kasalova (TCH), Khasanova (URS), and Svensson and Wiktorsson (SWE). Winners of Girls Doubles was the Czech team of Renata Kasalova/Daniela Davidkova; runner-ups were Nemes/Nolten. Third went to Russia’s Filura Khasanova/Elena Komrakova over teammates Helena Timina/Galina Melnik. The Mixed Doubles was won by Prean/Batorfi over Grman/Kasalova. Two other Czech teams fought it out for third—with Javurek/Alena Safarova defeating Janci/Davidkova.

             As for the cadets and cadettes, one could see many new faces in the Team event. This, once again, proved that the European Table Tennis Union (ETTU) was right when it ruled that the draw of the individual events had to be done after the Team event. Russia won the Boys Team title—over England, 3-2. Romania finished third by downing Hungary, 3-1. Romania was best among the Girls, edging Yugoslavia, 3-2. The Russians were third with a 3-1 win over the Czechs.

In the Cadet Singles final, Russia’s Dimitrij Mazunov defeated England’s Matthew Syed, 17, 17. Two Romanians vied for third with Romulus Revisz winning out over Calin Creanga. Among the Cadettes, Romania’s Otilia Badescu bested her teammate Emilia Ciosu in a three-game final, -18, 13, 16. Russian teammates battled for third—with Tatjan Medvedeva getting the better of Andjela Tain.

             Here in Hague one could witness a diminishing gap between the top table tennis nations and those of the middle-field. Scientific methods, professional coaches, and perfect techniques are taken for granted in almost every country—that is why the athletes of many heretofore hardly noticed nations are starting to catch up with those on top.

            Vanishing differences between the best players and the middle-field has also had its effect, unfortunately, on the attractiveness of the game. Ball exchanges have become shorter, consisting virtually of service and return, and rendering the game unattractive for outsiders. The player to first have a chance to topspin makes a point—or else his topspin is countered or smashed. This comes to three hits. Due to this, and factors of uncertainty and improvisation, players lose games after comfortable leads, or they win after trailing the adversary by many points. Due to this kind of ‘blitz’ game and the points made in a row, the difference in the command of both players cannot emerge clearly, especially since it is very small anyway. This is the main reason why there are no heavy favorites in the field, unlike in the good old days. Uncertainty is further boosted by the growing number of players wielding rackets with ‘sandwich’ rubbers. The game has been speeded up—with a diminishing difference in the players’ command, a shrinking number of top-class players, and a more powerful middle-field.

            The 28th European Youth Championships featured extremities. We have to cry and laugh at the same time. The reason for crying is that the attractiveness of the game, and its popularity with the public, has dwindled even more. The reason for laughing is that not a single match can be considered a sure bet in advance; there are many, many contenders. The atmosphere of the tournaments is tense, and the players fight fiercely for every point. [Isn’t there something to be said for this development? Is it just to be considered laughable?]” 

            All thirteen members of the U.S. International Wheelchair Table Tennis Team won one or more medals at the August, 1985 Vienna Sports Festival. Both players and coaches (Jim Beckford, Chris Lehman, and Marty Prager) who attended (SPIN, Dec., 1985, 21) received USTTA pins, patches, and gifts (I presume both for self and for distribution at the tournament). Here, as of Oct. 15, are the highest-rated players in their class (Class 1 denotes the most handicapped; Class 4 the least). Asterisks show number of medals won in Vienna:

Men: Class 1A: Skip Wilkins (1103), Sebastian DeFrancesco (1012).* Class 1B: Bart McNichol (1316), Ken Brooks (1079), Gary Blanks (1046).* Class IC: Peter Zarba (1054),* Rich Rosenbaum (893). Class 2: Tyler Kaus (1378), Mike LoRusso (1278).* Class 3: John Gray (1143),* Ernest Morgan (935). Class 4: Mike Dempsey (2031),*** Shawhan Fox (1363), Elliot Schloss (1257),* Chuck Focht (1226).* Also: Roger Kellough (943),* and Ronnie Kirkland (unrated).*

Women:  Class 1A: Kim Holm (514), Kathy McCaffrey (unrated). Class 1B: Ruth Rosenbaum (862), Tara Tonina (625). Class 2: Pam Stewart (988),* Wanda Strange (843). Class 3: Jennifer Brown-Johnson, 1167), *** Jackie DiLorenzo. Class 4: Terese Terranova (981),*** Stacie Norman (673).           

            Bohdan Dawidowicz (SPIN, Dec., 1985, 16) gives us the Results of the Polish Open, played Oct. 25 in Olsztyn:

Men’s Team: Final: Sweden d. Hungary, 3-1:Waldner (SWE) d. Kriston, 13, 14; Lindh (SWE) d. Takacs, 11, 8; Kriston/Takacs (HUN) d. Appelgren/Carlsson, 17, 16; Waldner d. Takacs,18, 11. Semi’s: Sweden d. Poland I, 3-2: Waldner (SWE) d. Kucharski, 17, 12; Grubba (POL) d. Lindh, 18, 17; Appelgren/Carlsson (SWE) d. Grubba/Kucharski, 21, 13; Grubba (POL) d. Waldner, 11, 13; Lindh (SWE) d. Kucharski, 14, 16; Hungary d. Czechoslovakia, 3-2 (Kriston (HUN) d. M. Broda, 9, -10, 18; V. Broda (TCH) d. Takacs, 14, 11; Broda/Broda (TCH) d. Kriston/Takacs, 19, -12, 11; Kriston (HUN) d. V. Broda, 18, -21, 16; Takacs (HUN) d. M. Broda, 9, 12.

            Final Men’s Team Standings: 1. Sweden. 2. Hungary. 3-4. Poland I/Czechoslovakia. 5-8. Romania, West Germany, Belgium, Japan. 9-16. Russia, China, Bulgaria, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Yugoslavia. Poland II.

            Women’s Team: Final: Hungary d. China, 3-0: Batorfi (HUN) d. Feng Jung, -16, 16, 7; Olah (HUN) d. Liu Yang, 19, 16; Batorfi/Olah (HUN) d. Feng Jung/Ma Shuang Ying, -18, 13, 10. Semi’s: Hungary d. Czechoslovakia, 3-2: Batorfi (HUN) d. Safarova, 11, 11; Davidkova (TCH) d. Olah, -20, 12, 8; Batorfi/Olah (HUN) d. Safarova/Davidkova, -18, 14, 22; Safarova (TCH) d. Olah, 15, -13, 17; Batorfi (HUN) d. Davidkova, 19, 21; China d. Russia, 3-1: Feng Jung (CHI) d. Zakharian, -16, 17, 13; Liu Yang (CHI) d. Bulatova, 13, 19; Zakharian/Bulatova (URS) d. Feng/Ma, 14, -11, 16; Feng (CHI) d. Bulatova, 19, -15, 13.

Final Women’s Team Standings: 1. Hungary. 2. China. 3-4. Czechoslovakia/Russia. 5-8. Yugoslavia, West Germany, Sweden, Poland I. 8-16. Finland, Bulgaria, Italy, Canada, Japan, France, England, Romania.

            Men’s Singles: Final: Waldner (SWE) d. Lindh (SWE), 19, 17, -15, -13, 14. Semi’s: Waldner d. Grubba (POL), 19, -16, 15, -13, 18; Lindh d. Appelgren (SWE), 13, 17, 18.

            Women’s Singles: Final: Feng Jung (CHI) d. Batorfi (HUN), 7, -13, 15, 19. Semi’s: Feng d. Batinic (YUG), 12, 12, 12; Batorfi d. Safarova (TCH), -8, 15, 18, 20.

            Men’s Doubles: Appelgren/Carlsson (SWE) d. Ma Wenge/Li Jy (CHI), -14, 20, 18.

            Women’s Doubles: Liu/Feng (CHI) d. Davidkova/Safarova, 16, -12, 17.

            Mixed Doubles: Grubba/Szato (POL) d. Kalinic/Batinic (YUG), -15, 17, 10. 

            Results of the Hungarian Open, played Nov. 15-17 at Miskolc: Men’s Team: Final: Sweden (3)—Czechoslovakia (0). Women’s Team: Hungary (3)—Romania (1). Men’s Singles: Final: Lindh d. Waldner. Semi’s: Lindh d. Douglas, 7, -18, 16, -20, 19; Waldner d. Grubba, -18, 19, -22, 15, 17. Quarter’s: Waldner d. Klampar, 18, -20, -18, 14, 19; Grubba d. Ulf Bengtsson, 13, 15, 15; Lindh d. Persson, 20, 18, 15; Douglas d. Appelgren, -16, 17, 17. -18, 17. Women’s Singles: Final: Olah d. Batorfi, -15, 13, 18, -19, 17. Semi’s: Olah d. Alboiu (Romania), -14, 15, 15, 17; Batorfi d. Bulatova, 14, 13, -14, 19. Men’s Doubles: Lupulescu (just out of the Junior ranks)/Primorac (still a Junior) d. Miroslav/Vladislav Broda. Women’s Doubles: Feng/Jung (China) d. Kawalek/Jolanta Szatko (Poland), -21, 17, 9. Mixed Doubles: Lupulescu/Perkucin d. Wosik/ Anka Schreiber, 10, -19, 9. 

            England’s George W. Yates (World Table Tennis, July-Aug., 1986, 27) tells us that for the first time ever Poland won the Super Division title in the European League. They defeated West Germany 6-1, runner-up Czechoslovakia, 5-2, while 4-3 staving off five teams—previous holder Sweden, France, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands who’d avoided relegation with a 4-3 win over last-place finisher West Germany. Andrzej Grubba, playing in all seven ties, lost only one match; Leszek Kucharski only three; and Stefan Dryzsel, playing just the last two ties, greatly contributed to the Poles’ win by stopping the Czechs Vladislav Broda and Jindrich Pansky and Sweden’s Waldner (25-23 in the third). Promoted from the First Division was not a disappointed England but Bulgaria, whose Mariano Loukov recorded wins over both Desmond Douglas and Carl Prean. 

            The USTTA Selection Committee picked Eric Boggan and Sean O’Neill to play in the Swedish Open at Landskrona, Nov. 28-Dec. 1. But Sean chose to play in the USOTC’s with his Thai friend Chartchai Teekaveerakit and Yugoslav/Canadian star Zoran Kosanovic—a Team that might well be good enough to win (we’ll see—the tournament is covered in the next chapter). In Landskrona, Brian Masters was to replace Sean (though I’ve no record, no confirmation, that a USA team actually played there).

            Winners at this Swedish Open: Men’s Team: 1. China. 2. Sweden. 3. Poland. 4. West Germany. Women’s Team: 1. China. 2. Czechoslovakia. 3. South Korea. 4. Hungary. Men’s Singles: Grubba d. Lindh, -16, 20, 15, 8. Women’s Singles: He Zhili d. Chen Zihe: 10, 11, -20, 12. Men’s Doubles: Lupulescu/Primorac d. Orlowski/Pansky, 18, -15, 18. Women’s Doubles: Zhu Juan (China)/Chen Zihe d. Olah/Urban, 11, 15. Mixed Doubles: Huang Wenguan/Zhu Juan d. Kalinic/Batinic, 18, 20. 

            Results of the Finlandia Open, played Dec. 6-8 in Helsinki: Men’s Team: China (3)—England (2). Women’s Team: China (3)—South Korea (0). Men’s Singles: Hui Jun d. Huang Wenguan, 20, 12, -14, 13. Semi’s: Hui d. Matsushita, 11, 15, 16; Huang d. Loukov (Bulgaria), 10, 8, 11. Women’s Singles: He Zhili d. Chen Zihe, 10, 12, 9. Semi’s: He d. Shin Derk Hua (South Korea), -16, 19, 19, -15, 10; Chen d. Park Sun Hee, 13, 19, -16, 15. Men’s Doubles: Hui/Huang d. Prean/Cooke, 11, 20. Women’s Doubles: Zhu/Chen d. Sonja Grefberg/Monica/Portin (Finland), 5, 15. Mixed Doubles: Hui/He d. Huang/Zhu, 15, 14. 

“As might be expected,” says World Table Tennis (July-Aug., 1986), “the Soviet (URS) Open, played at the Central Lenin Stadium in Moscow Dec. 11-15, did not draw many of the top European stars because it began on the scheduled date for the European League matches. Nevertheless, 13 countries took part in the tournament, including China and the Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea), along with Vietnam and India—thanks, no doubt, to suitably-assisted travel arrangements!

From the European side, France and Finland joined the Communist countries of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany). The Soviets took advantage of their presence to enter seven men and eight women’s teams into the tournament, sponsored by the Soviet newspaper Sovyetskaya Cultura.”

Results: Men’s Team: URS (5)—China (3). Women’s Team: China (3)—PRK (0). Men’s Singles: Final: Wang Huiyuan d. Andrei Mazunov, 21, -20, 17, -23, 12. Semi’s: Wang d. Vladimir Dvorak, 17, -9, 15, 19; Mazunov d. Milan Grman (Czechoslovakia), -11, -19, 17, 17, 19. Women’s Singles: Final: Guan Hua (China) d. Bulatova, 17, 18, -19, -18, 16. Semi’s: Guan d. Medvyedeva (URS), 17, 19, -17, -10, 15; Bulatova d. Guergueltcheva (Bulgaria), 16, -19, 19, 19. Men’s Doubles: Mazunov/Rosenberg d. Wan Yanshen/Soo Fan (China), 18, -14, 9. Women’s Doubles: Li Huinyoo/Guan d. Bulatova/Timofeeva (URS), 20, 15. Mixed Doubles: Final: Stefanov/Guergueltcheva d. Wan/Guan, 17, -15, 13. 

An unsigned article (World Table Tennis, Apr., 1986) reported that Thailand’s capital Bangkok, City of Temples, hosted for the fourth time the 13th South East Asia Games. Joining Thailand were participants from Kampuchea, Brunei, Burma, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, its World No. 32 position making it the highest-ranked country attending….

“The Games, staged at the Hua Mark Sports Complex, were honoured by the interest and involvement demonstrated by His Majesty the King who, on the day before the Opening Ceremony, lit the Games’ Flame in the Gardens of the Chitrlada Palace, using the sun’s rays and magnifying glass to kindle the flame. A golden candle was then lit by the flame, and placed in a traditional case, to be presented later to the Governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

The Official Opening of the Games took place on the following day, looking like a mini-Olympic Opening with its parade of contestants, massed bands and choirs, and cultural demonstrations. His Majesty the King declared the Games open, followed by a gun salute, a trumpet fanfare, and the lighting of the SEA Games Flame by an athlete running into the stadium.

The whole impressive affair was rounded off by a football match between Thailand and Malaysia, expected to be the two strongest contingents present. The Closing Ceremony was equally a festive occasion whose theme was sport but whose more serious aspect was the demonstration of friendship and solidarity amongst a group of nations with common aims.”

Results: Men’s Team: 1. Malaysia. 2. Indonesia. 3. Thailand. 4. Singapore. Women’s Team: 1. Singapore. 2. Thailand. 3. Indonesia. 4. Malaysia. Men’s Singles. Final: Limpisrivanic (THA) d. Lim Chin Leung (MAL), 23, -17, -16, 15, 14. Semi’s: Limpisrivanic d. Kee Tay (MAL), -9, 22, -18, 17, 22; Leung d. Harvono Wory (INA), -19, 18, 20, -18, 25. Women’s Singles: Final: May Wong Kim (SIN) d. Shwu Fang Goh (MAL), 13, 19, -20, 11. Semi’s: Kim d. Carla Tedjasukmana (INA), 20, 22, -14, 21; Goh d. Apiwatanapan, A., -11, 14, -15, 15, 18. Men’s Doubles: Final: Abdulrodjak/Merringgi T.S. (INA) d. Peong Tah Seng/Kok Chong Futt (MAL), 15, -9, 14, 16. Women’s Doubles: Final: Kumutpongpanich K./Kiewdoknoi C. (THA) d. Sumendap E./Chandra Dewi (INA), 21, 18, 12. Mixed Doubles: Final: Kantwang M./Kumutpongpanich K. (THA) d. Abdulrodjak/Dewi (INA), -11, 14, 18, 18. 

Earlier in this chapter, Coach Li Henan Ai was talking about what our RTP players need if they’re intent on working to become world-class players. Now she and her husband Liguo (SPIN, Sept., 1985, 17) give us a little history lesson on the so-called European, Japanese, and Chinese “style” of play.”

Since over the years, World Champions have come from different geographical locales while using different grips and specializing in all forms of attack and defense—hitting, looping, blocking, chopping, lobbing—what do the Ai’s recommend as being stylistically best for their students? Let’s follow them as they explain:

            The European domination of the mid-1920’s through the 1940’s began to end with Japan’s 1952 introduction of new and strange sponge rackets that allowed them to institute a new loop-attack style that for a time made them the chief world power. But if the Europeans thought they could relive past glories with a defensive style that would allow them—a la graceful choppers like Leach and Bergmann—to again revive their tradition of dominance, they were wrong. And were then the more thwarted with the 1961 success of China and their close-to-the-table attack style.

            Clearly, if Europe was to be a world-title contender, changes were needed. “…When the European shakehand style changed from chopping to looping, it was one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of the game. Now when we say ‘European style,’ we think of Bengtsson, Jonyer, and Surbek. No more do we think of Leach or Bergmann, yet among many the label ‘European style’ remains, even though the style has changed dramatically.” So what’s in a name?

            Today a misnomer appears when one speaks of an up-to-the-table penhold attack as “Chinese style.” Chinese players, guided by World Champion penholders Xi Enting and Guo Yuehua after they’d changed from hitting to looping, produced a veritable “loop storm” in China. So now what was the “Chinese style”? Did it center, as before, on fast-attack speed or, more to the present, on powerful spin?

            Why did people want to have rigid hang-ups regarding the association of a “style” with their play? Why didn’t the loopy Europeans have penhold hitters? Because it wasn’t their “style”? Why didn’t the Japanese, as penhold-oriented as they are, have close-up-to-the-table hitters? Because it wasn’t in their hallowed tradition, their “style”? 

            The Ai’s like it that, like China, the U.S. favors different styles. [Consider Danny Seemiller’s unique grip, and how, when others thought with that grip the only defense he could muster was the block, he showed how successfully he could incorporate chop into his game. The Seemiller “style” had taken on a new dimension.

            The Ai’s favor this “no tradition” approach; they “want to choose the most advanced ideas to follow.” So they’re not going to teach their RTP students “European style” or “Chinese style,” but “things which are universally accurate.” 

            Carl Danner, picking up on the Ai’s article, has something to say to players (TTT, Mar.-Apr., 1986, 22) about “Developing Your Own Style”:

            “…Do you envision ending rallies with a flat forehand smash? An overpowering loop? Or perhaps you prefer to outlast your opponents by counter-driving or playing defense? Each of these ideas (and many others) can serve as a basis for a style….

            In consciously trying to perfect a style, start by thinking about your physical qualities. Do you have quick hands? If so, that suggests playing close to the table. Are you fast on your feet? Perhaps you can develop footwork to hit powerful forehands consistently, or play defense. Do you have a runner’s endurance? Without it, look for quick ways to win points.

            Temperament is next. Are you impatient to attack, even hitting in big shots at deuce, or do you prefer setting-up point winners?       

             Finally, think about what special skills you have, about the two or three (no more) parts of your game —like maybe countering or blocking—that set you apart from others. These can form the strengths of your style.

            Now find a top player you can identify with and watch how he assembles the game you would like to have.

            Obviously, a close-to-the-table counter-driver puts his game together to form a style different from a wide-ranging forehand attacker. Take their footwork, for example. The counter-driver will stand much more squarely to the table, and cover a significant part of it with his backhand. His footwork training will emphasize quick side-to-side movements. The attacker’s ready position will favor his forehand and his footwork will emphasize the much wider (often in and out) movements needed to loop or smash balls.

            Their serves will be different. The counter-driver will want topspin returns, and he may use aggressive deep topspin serves to get them. The attacker is more concerned about preventing his opponent from attacking; he wants returns positioned where he can loop or hit them. He may serve mostly chop, carefully placed to come back within reach of his forehand.

            …The idea is: know your strengths and get the most out of them by developing complementary new shots in the limited practice time available to you. With a well-chosen style, your shots and skills can work together better.” 

Hoping to continue getting the most  out of their games are those (now twelve) players—Diana and Lisa Gee, Dave Chun, Chi Ming Chui, Chi Ngo, Gene Lonnon, Chris Fulbright, Vicky Wong, Jasmine Wang, Dhiren Narotam, Toni Gresham, and Li Ai—who  have been training at the Olympic Training Center as RTP student-players. Here’s Bob Tretheway (TTT, May-June, 1986, 11) to give us a glimpse of what their Colorado Springs life is like:

“On June 10, 1986 the first chapter in one of the USTTA’s most innovative and successful programs will come to an end. The project is officially known as the Resident Athlete Training Program (RTP) and is the result of efforts undertaken by Bob Tretheway, USTTA National Program Director. The RTP staff includes Henan and Liguo Ai as coaches and Larry Hodges as Camp Manager with Tretheway as the Program’s administrator.

While the lifestyle of the athletes is not that of the average teenager, the Program has been structured to allow for as much individual freedom and personal development as possible. The players attend school in the public school system, have access to the city via the City Transit Line and bus passes provided by the USTTA, have some planned recreational activities, play in tournaments, do their homework (most of the time), and train three to three and a half hours a day, six days a week. ‘Dorm life can be boring but you get used to it,’ comments Chris Fulbright, ‘and the training is great—probably the best.’

The athletes (except for Li Ai who lives with her RTP-staff parents) are housed in a college dormitory-styled building. Each floor has a TV lounge and there is a laundry room on the first floor. A number of rooms are now being remodeled and it’s hoped that table tennis players will be first on the list for these this coming August. An aspect of dorm life some of the players hadn’t fully considered when applying to participate in the Program is the independent life-style and the need for self-sufficiency. In many instances, they’ve come to rely on each other for help. ‘It’s kind of like a family here,’ says Gene Lonnon.

School? As a group they’re maintaining a B average. Of course there are some individual problems but these have been effectively handled in a cooperative way with the schools. The group has had a built-in math tutor in the presence of Len Hauer for the first few months, and now Larry Hodges, Several of the players are making the best grades they’ve ever made in math.

One stumbling block for players out of high school was the cost of college. Players living at the OTC were considered to be out-state students and have had to pay tuition fees a little over three times that of in-state students. This problem has been resolved. The Colorado State Legislature has passed a bill allowing athletes in residence at the Training Center to be considered as in-state students.

Have any of the players improved their game? Henan and Liguo Ai, the coaches, feel that all the players have improved, although this is not always reflected in the ratings. A couple of the players have added ten or fewer points to their ratings while others in the Program look like this: +55, +63, +78, +140, +159, and +273. Gene Lonnon, who is one of the players who hasn’t added points to his rating, says, “Of course I’m getting better. The reason my rating hasn’t gone up is because I’ve had to change some major parts of my game. But probably the most important thing that’s happened to me here is that I’m learning how to learn.

Will the RTP happen next year? Its continuance has been assured through a grant from the U.S. Olympic Foundation. Last December Bob Tretheway submitted a proposal for funding the Program and it was approved to the tune of $49,960. Out of 155 requests to the Foundation for money only 96 were approved and the average was for only $41,000. This means that the RTP is not now a part of the USTTA budget. No USTTA dollars are being spent on the Program other than a percentage of Tretheway’s salary for administration.

In addition to school, training, and recreation, the athletes have been involved in a number of other special activities that have helped to strengthen relations with the U.S. Olympic Committee and produce some regional and national publicity for the sport. Diana and Lisa Gee were the only two athletes to show up for a special USOC program for a group of Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance Company vice-presidents and were the stars of the evening. They were also featured in a story for the Olympian Magazine. Dave Chun and Toni Gresham were asked by the USOC to be athlete representatives in the campaign for the in-state tuition bill. In fact, Toni gave a talk at the state legislature in Denver. Larry Hodges and Chi Ngo gave an exhibition and ran a tournament for a group of Cub Scout Packs. The entire group were umpires at the National Collegiate Championships, except Dave Chun who played. Several different players gave exhibitions, and the entire group has entertained dignitaries from Soma, Japan, Korea, Russia, the Air Force Academy, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, including Secretary General George Miller.

Commitment and involvement have been the passwords for getting in and staying in the RTP. The athletes and their families have worked hard at making the Program a success. Many feel the entire sport has benefited from their efforts.”