Tawny Banh

Courtesy of Tim Boggan

(Photo #1) Well, this evening I can’t say the World’s watching Tawny Banh, shown here, fourth from left, with her 1997 USA World teammates, but she’s certainly caught the eye of all those who’ve come here to honor her tonight.

            Tawny, the youngest of six children, emigrated with her family to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was four years old. Eventually they settled in California, reportedly next door to…a table tennis club. Ah, destiny. Yeah? Tawny says, “I started to play at age 13 in Alhambra, CA with my older siblings on a small table with a wooden racket and a cardboard net.”

But then, after tutelage from the man whom she said in a 2001 interview with Larry Hodges had been her “one true coach, former Philippine National Champion Richard Ching, and also after some guidance from her oldest brother Tin, Tawny, in Dec., 1991 having just the week before turned 17, suddenly came of table tennis age.

At the 1991 U.S. Closed, in the first round of Women’s Singles, (Photo #2) she forced into the fifth Diana Gee, a 234-rating-point favorite who was about to win both the Women’s and Mixed Doubles. The stamina Tawny had built up from playing basketball and volleyball—she was about 5’3,” 120 pounds—and the footwork she’d been practicing in her twice-a-week two-hour coaching sessions helped her to “turn”—that is, run around her forehand to aggressively attack—as well as to quickly move to backhand counter-block with her short pips.

            Later, in the semi’s of the Women’s Under 22, Tawny, wearing a paddle-and-ball neck chain with Mandarin writing on the back that said “Good Luck!”, scored a surprise upset over (Photo #3) the current U.S. #1 Junior Girl Li Ai. Then she went on (Photo #4) to take the final from Jane Chui who later, in the inaugural High School Girls Singles, finally won out over Tawny, 33-31 in the 3rd. Thereafter, Banh would add three more U-22 National titles to her resume.

             Though Ching, the coach Tawny had such confidence in, had returned to his home country, the strong support she was getting from her sponsor Yasaka and from friends at Jerry Young’s LATTA, (Photo #5) Dr. Jiing Wang’s San Gabriel Valley TTC, and Yungtai Hsu’s Pacific Athletic Center, allowed her to continue her rapid progress.

            After representing the U.S. at the 1993 Paris World’s in May, Banh did well at the August Pan-Am Games held in the Dominican Republic. (Photo #6) Here are the two teams pictured together all friendly-like. Tawny took a Silver (Photo #7) in Women’s Doubles with Lily Yip, and a Bronze in Singles, losing to the Dominican Chinese transplant Wu Xue, but (Photo #8) she had a good win over former Yugoslav Olympic medal winner now her U.S. teammate, Jasna (nee Fazlic) Reed. (Later, rather than be known by the name Reed that Jasna had one day just whimsically picked, she’d rather be known by another.)  

At the 1993 U.S. Closed, in a match that decided who would be on the USA World Team, Tawny defeated (Photo #9) former three-time USSR International and English Open Champion Anita Zakharyan.

            The 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival  brought Tawny a Silver in Singles, a Gold in the Mixed. And in the ’94 U.S. Closed, though Banh and (Photo #10) 1990 U.S. National Champion Wei Wang were runner-ups in the Doubles, Tawny (no hard feelings she hoped on Wang’s part and certainly no soft ones on her own) kept Wei off the 1995 World Team to Tianjin, China. That’s the famous Tianjin Radio and TV Tower in the background.

In 1995, Tawny was in Argentina at the second of her four Pan Am Games in which she’ll garner 7 medals in all. Then that fall she shared a Women’s Team win at the USOTC’s. At the U.S. Closed that followed, ex-Chinese star Amy Feng would win her fourth straight U.S. Singles Championship. (Photo #11) Any mystery about that? Nope, first she’d serve…then (Photo #12) smoothly follow. Feng was just good. As of course was ex-Chinese star Gao Jun who succeeded Amy—succeeded her for the next 7 straight Championships. (Photo #13) Just look at Gao—winning is fun, huh? Well, so much for that Mandarin Good Luck neck chain that maybe Banh wasn’t wearing any more. Still, with Opportunity subjected to a Chinese choke hold, what could Tawny do?

“For me to beat Gao,” she told Hodges, I would have to put a lot of time, effort, energy, and discipline into my training. And I just don’t have that much time. I have other things going on in my life….I would love to play table tennis full-time, but I’m coaching a Youth Program I care about, and am currently a senior at California State University, Los Angeles, where, interested in Management, she’ll go on to get a degree in Business Administration. Obtaining a college degree is vital in life, everyone should have one. (Photo #14) Jasna would agree, especially when it helps her to win another National title—the U.S. Intercollegiate’s. Tawny also has some diversionary things to do—like shopping or going to the movies with friends, playing with her pet parrot, and (as one reporter said) “collecting money.” Huh? Collecting money?...Never mind—turns out she collects $2 bills.

No, Tawny can’t beat Gao—will lose to her at 1-2-3-4-5-6 National’s—but at this ’95 Closed she continues to do her best, and, at Nan Li’s expense, makes another U.S. Team.

Then, in ’96, (Photo #15) more of the same for both Tawny and Nan, daughter of famed Chinese superstars Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li. Nan would lose a -20, 21, -21, -23 killer Singles match to Banh at the National’s, and Tawny would go on to the 1997 Manchester, England World’s. There she would win the first of her Bronze medals in the formidable Consolation competition.

At the 1997 Closed, what could she win? Uh, nothing. But she could come second in Women’s Doubles…to of course Guo/Feng.

Know what Tawny (now rated 2451) accomplished at the ’98 Closed? The perverse “hat trick.” Yep—she came second in Women’s Singles, just getting by (Photo #16) former U.S. Team member Virginia Sung in the semi’s, 19 in the 5th, and also came second in Women’s and Mixed Doubles. She was the Best of the Second Best—a scenario that would play out in a number of future U.S. Closed events (Tawny will be in 11 Singles finals or semifinals and 12 Doubles finals).

            So, well, if you can’t beat them, join them.  (Photo #17) Tawny, centered here, teamed with Guo and Feng to take the 1999 Pan Am Women’s Team event, enjoying against Canada in the final a 24-22 in the 3rd win over Chris Xu. Wow! Having just won that match, Tawny’s on a pogo stick! Bunny-hopping—then flying around the court, she’s so comically happy. Nor was she anymore subdued when in the Singles against teammate Amy, exhorting herself to move, move she did—so much so that the umpire gave her a yellow card, warning her for being too excited.

A big win for Tawny too at the 1999 Netherlands’ World’s. (Photo #18) She’s again in the Consolation event for Preliminary and First Round losers and has advanced to the quarter’s. A win against the China-born Australian #1 Miao Miao would bring her at least a Bronze—and she wants passionately to win, and not just for the medal. Earlier, at the Swedish Open, Tawny’d asked Miao, ’95 European Cadet Girls Champion, to hit some with her, and the disdainful look Miao gave her in refusing was of course being  freshly replayed now in Tawny’s mind. Focused she is. So much so that when the umpire tells her to tie her shoe someplace other than up against the table edge she ignores him. Ignores him even when he waves his yellow card at her. Point is: she really wants this ultra-satisfying win—and, coming from behind, gets it.

The year 2000 brings Tawny to both the Kuala Lumpur World’s and, after a three-week Training Camp in China, the Sydney Olympics. (Here she is, front row left, in an official photo with her teammates (Photo #19) Qualifying in both Singles and Doubles for the Olympics, she says was her #1 career accomplishment.

            In Feb., 2001, Tawny makes the U.S. World Team to Osaka, Japan, but suffers the first of a series of U.S. Closed losses through the next five years to Jasna Reed. “Banh,” says Hodges (Photo #20), “with pips on the backhand, plays close to the table, bangs her backhands out extremely quick and fast, and forehand loops from nearly off the bounce over and over. Reed, with inverted on both sides, will play from all over the court at all speeds.”

At Osaka, Tawny is rooted on by (Photo #21) a leprechaunish Dr. Michael Scott who’s directing a 300-strong wave of Japanese middle-school children perched above the U.S. vs. Germany tie, all repeatedly chanting, “TONE-Y! TONE-Y!” Hold it—small correction needed, the cheers are for a woman not a man: “TAWN-Y! TAWN-Y!” Tawny, who had a good win in the Singles over Chinese Taipei’s World #162 Pan Li-Chun, didn’t beat World #26 Jie Schoepp, nor did the U.S. top World #7 Germany, but, what the hell, Scott said, “The kids enjoyed cheering more than they did watching the game.” Scott too.

            In April, 2003, Tawny lost two tough matches at the North American Championships. She and fellow U.S. Olympian Lily Yip were beaten in the final of the Women’s Doubles by Canadians Petra Cada and Marie-Christine Roussy (one of the few  players in Canada to use the Seemiller grip). Then, though Banh had (Photo #22) braved her way through a 5-game Singles semi’s match with Cada, Canada’s #2, she (Photo #23) couldn’t pull out the close 6-game final against Canadian chopper Chris Xu, losing half the games frustratingly close, 9-11, 12-14, 9-11. Too bad for Tawny, since the winner won the right to compete in the Women’s World Cup, which for sure would have meant some bucks to her.

Tawny went on in 2003 to (Photo #24) beat teammate Jackie Lee at the Pan Am Games and so bring home a Bronze in Singles; she also paired with (Photo #25) Lily for a Silver in Doubles. Later, thinking about the 2003 Closed, Jasna realizes she has a chance at the title—perennial Champ Gao’s absent, playing in a league in China. So Jasna knows just what she has to do—she goes to Germany to train and practice and comes back playing better than ever. Though she’s lost to Tawny the last two times out, (Photo #26) she’s wired to win her first U.S. Singles Championship and so doesn’t lose this time. Then as if to make amends in the Doubles for Tawny’s 7 straight failed attempts, pairs with her for a win there too—(Photo #27) over Lily and daughter Judy Hugh.

            In qualifying for the 2004 Olympics, Tawny (Photo #28) enjoys the perk of being on the Dennis Miller Show with teammate Khoa Nguyen. Later, at the 2004 National’s, Gao’s back, and resumes her winning ways—this time taking the Women’s Doubles with Tawny.

            The 2005 Closed sees the arrival of Yao Xi “Crystal” Wang—(Photo #29) she beats Tawny in 7 in the semi’s, then loses to Jasna in 7 in the final.

            Few can overcome title-depriving defeats as Tawny has. Can we ever think of her as being discouraged, no longer willing to fight. “Everybody hates to lose,” she says, “but I am one who despises losing! And since I’m passionate about winning I work very hard at it.” You can believe it. Even as her career winds down, think of her struggling in the quarter’s of the 2006 National’s: (Photo #30) she’s lost the first three games, the last 14-12, to the young ever-improving Judy Hugh, but she finds the energy she needs and rallies to take the last four for the win.

            What heart, and what ability to focus, Tawny again and again shows. She and Crystal Huang will win the U.S. Closed Women’s Doubles in both 2006 and 2008. They’ll become friends and practice partners, and will open their Los Angeles TTA club together. Now, with Tawny as Head Coach there, it’s one of the largest full-time clubs on the West Coast. Friends they are, but in a match to decide who’ll make the 2007 Pan Am Team, Tawny’s all business, will (Photo #31) defeat Crystal—here seeming to wonder what happened, but destined in 2008 to be our National Champion.

            Finally, though, all athletes come to it—it’s time to retire.

            In his Interview with Tawny, Larry Hodges asked if she had any advice to offer those who aspired to be Olympians. She said, “Discipline yourself. Don’t let obstacles overcome you; you overcome them. Believe in yourself and you will achieve.”

            Believe in herself Tawny certainly has. And, as we can attest to tonight, through that self-belief her many achievements at home and abroad have come to pass. Indeed, have come so repeatedly that few can match her incredibly consistent high-level accomplishments—14 consecutive years (a record?) she was on the U.S. National Team.

(Photo #32), here at the 2000 U.S. Closed, the audience has been watching the trophy presentations to the Women’s Singles finalists—that’s USTTA President Sheri Pittman flanked by runner-up Tawny Banh and winner Gao Jun.

It’s a class photo by Mal Anderson, and it’s a class player we honor tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the very deserving Tawny Banh to our Hall.

Tawny Banh Photo Sequence

#1: U.S. Team to 1997 Manchester, England World’s

#2: Tawny’s quite an opponent for Diana

#3: Li Ai’s upset by Tawny

#4: And so in the 22 final is Jane Chui

#5: Doctor Wang’s orders to Tawny: keep winning

#6: U.S. and Dominicans couldn’t be more friendly—Tawny’s front right

#7: Who wouldn’t like to have Lily as a Doubles partner?

#8: Tawny has an early win over Olympic medalist Jasna

#9: Former USSR Internationalist and English Open winner Anita Zakharyan

#10: 1990 U.S. Champion Wei Wang didn’t make it to Tianjin heights

#11: Amy on serve sure can confuse an opponent

#12: And Feng’s follow-up forehand’s gotta win points

#13: You’d have a cunning smile too if, like Gao, you kept winning titles

#14: How to get through school: with books and trophies

#15: Guess Tawny wants to win, huh? Fist-up finish over Nan Li

#16: Tawny’s Singles semi’s win over Virginia Sung gets her to… Gao

#17: U.S. Team Wins ALL the Pan Am Gold!

#18: Tawny takes revenge against young Australian for snubbing her

#19: Tawny: proud to be an Olympian

#20: Tawny, up close and forcing

#21: Dr. Scott’s flag-wavers

#22: Canada’s #2 Petra Cada

#23: Canada’s Chris Xu, not Tawny, goes to the World Cup

#24: Jackie Lee on the attack

#25: Tawny with Hall of Famer Lily Hugh

#26: A passionate Jasna. Did she win or lose?

#27: Distinguished mother/daughter combo: Lily and Judy

#28: Olympians Tawny and Khoa Nguyen with “Chef” Dennis Miller

#29: Crystal Wang and Tawny battle it out

#30: Tawny’s rally from down 3-0 gives her the turnaround win over Judy

#31: How’d I lose?

#32: Certainly a local world is watching