Ready for Rio: Table tennis, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Oct. 28, 2014, 2:12 p.m. (ET)

U.S. Paralympian Tara Profitt competed in her first Games at the 1984 Paralympic Games.

Take a shot at learning these 16 facts about Paralympic table tennis before the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games begin:

1. Paralympic history
Table tennis was one of the original sports played at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960. Only 10 countries competed in table tennis during its Paralympics debut.

2. Origin
Table tennis began in the late 1880s and served as an after-dinner game for wealthy people. Originally, the game was played by hitting a rubber or cork ball from one end of the table to the other while avoiding a row of books that lined the center of the table, which acted as a net.

3. Quite a racket
When people began playing table tennis in the 1880s, they would sometimes use a cigar box lid as the racket. However, as time went on, the table tennis racket transformed into what it is today—a small paddle with a rubber covering that allows the ball to travel faster and to increase the effect of a ball’s spin.

4. Nicknames
The sport of table tennis is also casually known as “ping-pong.” The nickname for the game came from the sound the ball made when it bounced off rackets that were used in the early 1900s.

5. Classifications
Paralympic table tennis includes 11 classes for disabled athletes.

  • Classes 1-5: athletes with a physical impairment that affects their legs who compete in a sitting position.
  •  Classes 6-10: athletes with a physical impairment who compete from a standing position
  • Class 11: athletes with intellectual impairment.

6. Table tennis glossary
Blade: The wooden racket without the rubber covering.
Drop shot: A shot by a player that makes the ball land very close to the net on the opponent’s side.
Sidespin: A sideways movement of the racket that makes the ball spin.

7. Tennis vs. table tennis
In tennis, a player serves for a whole game, whereas in table tennis, the service changes after every two points. The table tennis doubles serve also alternates not only between teams, but players as well.  If the score gets to 10-10, the serve changes after every point. In team events for table tennis, there are four singles matches and one doubles match, and each is played to the best of five.

8. Matches
Singles matches are played over the best of five games, with the first player to 11 points winning each game. Matches must be won by a margin of two points, otherwise the game continues.

9. A Paralympics first
Table tennis is the first and only sport to debut as a Paralympic sport before appearing as an Olympic event. Olympic table tennis debuted 28 years—seven Games—after the sport’s first appearance in the Paralympic Games.

10. London 2012
A total of 276 athletes, comprised of 174 men and 102 women, participated in Paralympic table tennis at the London 2012 Games. Athletes competed in 29 medal events.

11. Teams
Each country is limited to three athletes in each singles event and one team in each team event.

12. The ball
When table tennis was originally played in the 1880s, players used a rubber ball. After a few transformations, including balls made of champagne corks, and celluloid the International Federation switched to a plastic ball this year.

13. Top countries
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, China took home a total of 21 medals for table tennis, which is one less medal than China took home from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

14. Format
Table tennis events begin with a preliminary round followed by knockout stages. Players and teams progress through the draw until the finals. The winners of the semi-finals play in the gold medal match, while the losers of the semi-finals compete for the bronze medal.

15. Team USA
Team USA has not placed in the top three medaling countries for Paralympic table tennis since the Tokyo 1964 Games when the U.S. ranked second. The country came close at the Seoul 1988 Games when the U.S. came in fourth in the medal standings. The last singles medal (bronze) won by a U.S. player was Tahl Leibovitz in 2004 in Athens in class 9 singles.

16. Where to watch in 2016
The Riocentro Pavilion 3 in Barra will host both Olympic and Paralympic table tennis for the Rio 2016 Games. The exposition center will briefly be turned into the table tennis venue and revert back once the Games are finished. The center court will have seating for 4,200 spectators.

To learn more about Paralympic table tennis, click here. USA Table Tennis, the National Governing Body for the sport of table tennis in the United States, manages Paralympic table tennis.