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World Class American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age - Volume IV

By Dean Johnson | July 21, 2014, 9 a.m. (ET)

American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age

This Volume, No. IV . . .  

World Class American. . . in our 6-Volume series of American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age, published by United States Table Tennis Hall of Fame and Authored by Dean Johnson & Tim Boggan, features five of our most popular and beloved Legends -- Bernie Bukiet, Bobby Gusikoff, Erwin Klein and Leah and Tybie Thall.

Bernie Bukiet’s life is an incredible story of survival. Table Tennis to Bernie was a passport to everything - to survival during World War II, to America and, finally, to becoming “a show business celebrity.”

One day, during WWII, at 3 a.m., there's a knock on Bernie’s door. "What's your name?...gather up your belongings, you're coming with us." He’s put on a train and sent to a concentration camp in Russia.

When he is finally released he has to go somewhere so he heads to Munich where he believes he may have some relatives.

At a train station, by chance, he meets a man he's never seen before who says, "Hey, aren't you the table tennis player from before the War?" He takes Bernie home, gives him a room, and fixes him up with a job coaching at a club in Germany.

Bernie went on to become a 3-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 6-time U.S. Men's Doubles champion, 3-time U.S. Mixed Doubles Champion and an 8-time Member of the U.S. Team to the World Championships -- not the "table tennis bum" some official had once called him...but a show-business celebrity.

Bobby Gusikoff came from a very musical family. His mother’s father, Bohumil Kryl, had played the cornet for John Philip Sousa; his mother was a very accomplished pianist; and his father was a noted violinist and symphony orchestra conductor. But there would be no performance-concerts in Bobby’s future – his footsteps would have him traveling to a different kind of playing hall.

Bobby’s introduction to table tennis came on an evening in the late 1940s when his father brought him to the fabled Herwald Lawrence’s Broadway Courts in Manhattan. “There was no way to know that in a few minutes my entire life would be changed,” he said.

Erwin Klein, at age16, at the Canadian International in Toronto, won the Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles and Junior titles – in the Men’s defeating John Somael, Bernie Bukiet, and Sol Schiff, the U.S.'s 3rd, 4th, and 5th ranked players. How can this be explained by anything other than “pure talent?”

Erwin went on to win the U.S. Open Boys twice, the U.S. Open Juniors three times, Canadian Open Men’s Singles four times, U.S. Open Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles four times and the 1956 World’s Mixed Doubles Championship (with Leah Neuberger). The Legacy of Erwin Klein may be that he was one of the greatest table tennis player America ever produced -- in terms of pure talent, rivaling the legendary careers of Dick Miles and Marty Reisman.

Leah & Tybie Thall won nearly 170 titles between them!

Leah won 71 U.S. and Canadian titles including  9 U.S. Open Women’s Singles titles, 12 Women’s Doubles and 9 Mixed Doubles. Her greatest triumph of course was at Tokyo in 1956 when she and teenager Erwin Klein won the World’s Mixed Doubles from 14-10 down in the 5th over Ivan Andreadis and Ann Haydon, both World Singles runner-ups.

Tybie’s greatest triumphs came in the years 1948 and 1949. In 1949 she was a member of the winning U.S. Corbillon Cup Team and the winner of the English Open Mixed and  Women’s Doubles Championships.

But Tybie’s greatest triumph of all? Winning the World's Mixed Doubles Championship with Dick Miles in 1948. Describing Tybie’s play in this match, English Coach Jack Carrington said in Table Tennis that Tybie “treated us to a display of mixed doubles play which few women could ever equal.” She “inspired her partner to fight. She chopped Vana’s drives and services safely back, pushed his difficult chops, and drove with ferocity whenever possible.”

Copies are available on Amazon.

All proceeds benefit the USTTA Hall of Fame Museum.

Read Volumes I, II, III Reviews

Dean Johnson