Dhiren Narotam Profile

by Paul Lewis

It is certainly a privilege to present my long-time friend today for his induction into the Hall of Fame. Following Houshang, Jimmy Butler, and Dick Butler, Dhiren is now the 4th Iowan in the Hall of Fame that consists of 150 players and contributors. I guess that makes Iowa an above-average state when it comes to Hall of Famers! Perhaps you are wondering if the state of Iowa is indeed an under-publicized table tennis Mecca?  

I first met Dhiren when I was a student at Iowa State University in 1980. Dhiren was 8 years old. I previously played against his father Champak at the Nissen Open tournaments, and also at tournaments hosted by LeRoy Peterson and the club in Wisner, Nebraska. Champak was a regular at the Iowa State University club, and he usually brought Dhiren along. 

Dhiren was a very likeable kid. Even though it was a college club, everyone seemed to want to help Dhiren with his table tennis game. The club's best player was a 2000-level player from Australia named Robert Carr. He spent many hours coaching Dhiren. Jaime Salama, a former member of the Venezuela Junior team, was a regular club member and in addition to Dhiren's dad, Jaime another one of Dhiren's early coaches. 

Practice in the Narotam basement also supplemented play at the Iowa State club. With only about 3 feet surrounding each side of the table, the only person during practice that this limited space didn't seem to bother was Houshang. 

It wasn't long, of course, before Dhiren was a regular at Midwest tournaments. He didn't have to travel far for good competition. Brandon Olson was at Disney's Table Tennis Club in Minneapolis. Houshang was still very tough. And of course there was the Butler's in Iowa City. Jimmy was close in age to Dhiren, and in addition to being very good players, the Butler's accomplishments were always well publicized. As a rising star among junior players, Dhiren always seemed to be in their shadow.

One of Dhiren's earliest noteworthy victories was winning the Under 11 Boys final at the 1982 US Closed, defeating Chi-Sun Chui in the finals and Eric Owens in the Semis. 

Dhiren's first international experience was one that he would repeat several times. He took the 13-hour road-trip from Iowa to Toronto, Canada, to complete in the Canadian National Exhibition. He didn't lack playing time at those tournaments. Every year Dhiren's dad would sign him up for all the rating events and all the age events that he was eligible for. In the evening Dhiren would then compete in the USA-Canada junior team matches. 

Dhiren's table tennis game showed enough promise that he was selected to be among the first group of residents at the new Resident Training Program in Colorado Springs in 1985. 

When Dhiren left for Colorado Springs, he left his home and family as a 12-year-old that would enter 8th grade in Colorado. Packed away in his tournament bag was a Winnie-the Pooh stuffed bear, Dhiren's good-luck charm that went with him to many tournaments. 

It had to take a certain amount of inner strength for Dhiren to leave home as a 12-year-old for what would eventually be 10 years of full time training. 

His family also made many sacrifices for Dhiren to further his table tennis career. Obvious ones, for example, were financial obligations that go along with tournament participation, or even an entire season of training in at the Dohjo Training Center in Japan, where he would practice daily with Johnny Huang and Jo Ng. His training would also include stints in Sweden and Hong Kong.

Probably the greatest sacrifice for his family, however, was to have their son and brother away for such long periods of time. It would have been impossible for him to know that he would remain in Colorado Springs until moving back home during his second semester of his senior year...so that he could graduate from Ames High School. 

I've heard a few stories of Dhiren wanting to watch out for others while he was at RTC. When Toni Gresham was there, she had hair that went down to her knees. She would tie it up when she played. Dhiren felt obligated to reminder her to get it cut, and so he yanked on her hair every day until she finally did get it cut short. 

It wouldn't seem appropriate to talk about Dhiren without mentioning John Elway and the stupid Denver Broncos. Ok, that's enough about that topic. 

Training at RTC paid dividends for Dhiren. During the U.S. Open following the first year after Dhiren arrived at RTC, he had what he would describe as his "favorite tournament", and his rating jumped 400 points after he had won the Under 2100, Under 2200, and Under 2400. 
Dhiren was a regular participant in the U.S. in Olympic Sports Festivals from 1986 - 1993. He won numerous medals, including a Silver medal in 1989 men's singles, and teamed with Scott Butler to win a gold medal in 1991 Mens' Doubles. In three different Festivals, Dhiren was knocked out of Men's Singles by Sean O'Neill. Recently, however, Sean confessed to me that Dhiren was a real "always a real thorn in his side, as they had similar playing styles". 

Dhiren would team with Sean and Jimmy Butler to win the Silver Medal for the USA at the 1991 Pan American Games in Cuba. 

Dhiren's first experience as a USA World Team member was in 1989 in Dortmund, German. The team competed in the Second Division and the team finished with a world ranking of  #20. Dhiren was also on the USA team in 1991 that competed in Japan. Excitement surrounding this particular World Championship was that North and South Korea competed as a unified team. Success of the 1991 team, which finished #15, placed the USA back into the First Division for the following World Championships. 

The 1992 North America Table Tennis Championships was a tournament that Dhiren didn't want to go to, but he had committed to it. He was still in a bad mood from his performance at the Olympic trials a few weeks earlier, and he didn't feel a strong motivation to play. By the end of the tournament, his mood had changed. 

Dhiren knocked out Horatio Pintea in the Quarters of the Men's Singles before losing in the Semi's to Jimmy Butler. Dhiren's fortunes were better in the U.S World Cup Men's Doubles Qualifier, however. Dhiren and Hank Teekaveerakit came in first in a 3-way tie with Danny Seemiller/John Onifade and Jim Butler/Sean O'Neill.

Dhiren would end up playing in the World Cup Doubles with Brian Masters. Hank had a conflict due to a family situation in Thailand, and Dhiren was allowed to pick a replacement partner. He chose left-handed Brian Masters. At the time, Dhiren was training at the Division 1 level the Angby Club in Sweden, the same club that also happened to have Waldner, Applegren, and Persson playing at the Elite division. Brian was also training in Sweden, but at a different club. Dhiren and Brian played several doubles tournaments together in Europe to prepare for the World Cup Doubles. They would eventually end up 13-14 at the World Cup Doubles. 

Like many top players, Dhiren was fortunate enough to have a sponsor during most of his playing career. Stiga sponsored him for 5-6 years, and Dhiren's friendship with Ron Shirley would extend beyond table tennis. Dhiren was also sponsored by Butterfly and Martin-Kilpatrick for the last three years of his career. 

Although you couldn't have known it at the time, the USA Team enjoyed some of its greatest international success in recent memory. In the 1989 and 1991 World Championships, Dhiren competed on the USA teams that finished #20 and #15, respectively.

Players that he defeated in tournaments during his career included Insook Bhushan, Eric Boggan, Scott Boggan, Houshang Bozorgzadeh, Jim Butler, Scott Butler, Brian Masters, Joe Ng,  Khoa Nguyen, Sean O'Neill, Horatio Pintea, Danny Seemiller, Ricky Seemiller, Randy Seemiller, Todd Sweeris, and Chartchai Teekaveerakit. 

Dhiren's style of play seems to lend itself to great spectator matches. One match that perhaps best illustrates this was at the 1986 U.S. Open. In the finals of the U2400 against lobber James Therraiault, a video of the match showed Dhiren smashing over 100 balls in a row! 

There were other good spectator "matches," that weren't part of a tournament. Dhiren performed multiple Las Vegas exhibitions with Scott Preiss at the Comdex Computer show, and another one at a Consumer Electronics show. Dhiren and Scott also did an exhibition outdoors at the Freemont Street Experience here in Vegas. 

Dhiren teamed with Houshang to perform exhibitions throughout the state of Iowa. They did a few exhibitions for participants at the Iowa Games. More common were the many exhibitions with Houshang, primarily in the Des Moines, Waterloo, and surrounding communities. Most recently, Dhiren's daughters Maiele and Mira got to watch their father do an exhibition at their school.

Fortunately, when his playing career ended, Dhiren's commitment to table tennis did not. He coached and trained with Ames, Iowa native Michael Liu for two years, and as a result, Michael won an Under 10 U.S. title. 

For nearly four decades The Iowa Sports Foundation, as part of the State Games of America organization, sponsors the Iowa Winter Games and the Iowa Summer Games. Iowa has included table tennis as one of its events since 1996, when table tennis was first included as part of the Winter Games in Dubuque. The Summer Games, held in Ames, would later add table tennis to its itinerary of over 50 sports. 

Any tournament organizer will be quick to tell you the importance of having a "right-hand-man" to help with things. Seldom if ever can one person do it all, and as the sport commissioner, I know I couldn't. For nearly 20 years, Dhiren has helped with the Iowa Winter Games and the Iowa Summer games. I think Dhiren would agree that the most memorable year was the first year, in 1996. We had to set up the gym on a cold Friday night. The Dubuque Club only had 4 Butterfly tables. We had to collect another 6 Stiga tables from various locations and transport them to the gym in the back of a pick-up. 

The tournament was scheduled to start Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m., with the gym opening for practice at 8:00 a.m. When Dhiren and the table tennis crew arrived at 7:45 the gym was locked. It turned out that due to the cold weather, the custodian's car would not start. There we were, sitting in our cars in 18 below zero weather, with no way to open the gym. Players began to arrive from around the state, and we were all sitting in our cars in the parking lot, trying to stay warm. Eventually the Iowa Games staff drove and picked up the custodian so that he could then open the gym. 

Later that night, after the tournament was over, we had to return the tables, since another sport was using the gym the next day. (It had not warmed up outside.) Dhiren helped with transportation and return of the tables in spite of the conditions. Very humble service for such an accomplished player. It was that kind of service that Dhiren has given back to table tennis for many years. 

It's no wonder that in 2011 he was recognized by the Iowa Sports Foundation as the Iowa Winter Games Volunteer of the Year from among several thousand volunteers. He had of course performed exhibitions with Houshang. He had served as torch bearer to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies. More importantly, he has helped with the draws and run the desk. He always single-handedly runs the junior events. I know there are many who share the gratitude of your service to the Iowa Games, and  It would be hard to describe the gratitude I feel for what he has meant for table tennis. I can say that although he is no longer a kid, he is still a likeable guy. 

Congratulations Dhiren. It's a long, unlikely journey from Ames, Iowa to the table tennis Hall of Fame. Many, but most notably your family...Champak, Tara, Neel...have sacrificed to help you reach your goals. I know that you know this. For them and others who have sacrificed to help you reach this milestone, you have shown us what dedication, sacrifice,  and perseverance means on your long journey from being a young player with lots of enthusiasm, to representing the United States twice in the World Championships, to returning to your home state and inspiring table tennis players of all generations that this can be and is a lifelong sport for all generations. And, you are still a likable guy! Congratulations Dhiren, and thank you for allowing me to play a small part in your journey.   

Dhiren's Acceptance Speech