Road To The Olympic Games

Table-Tennis

Rio Olympics: Become an instant expert at table tennis

Before the first serve flies over the net in Rio this summer, we've gathered everything you need to know to make you an instant expert at table tennis.

Serving up all the facts, terminology just in time for the Summer Games

It's been around longer than the most ancient of all video games, but table tennis only became part of the official Olympic program at the Seoul Games in 1988. (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images/File)

By Justin Piercy

This summer, Olympic gold will be on the line in a sport you may have encountered on a rainy day spent in your family or friend's basement.

No, Battleship has yet to make the cut for the Olympic program; we're talking about table tennis. Dabbling in "ping pong" is one thing, the hyper-competitive table tennis action coming to Brazil is another.

Don't worry — before the first serve flies over the net in Rio this summer, we've gathered everything you need to know to make you an instant expert.

Quick facts

  • It's been around longer than the most ancient of all video games, but table tennis only became part of the official Olympic program at the Seoul Games in 1988.
     
  • The game is played competitively by an estimated 40 million people, recreationally by countless millions more, making it the most played racquet sport in the world.
     
  • The Olympic events are men's singles, women's singles, men's team, and women's team. The singles events are best-of-seven game format. The team events consist of three players per country competing in a best-of-five format, with four singles matches and one doubles match.
     
  • Whomever came up with the old adage, "blink and you'll miss it" may have had table tennis in mind. Serves reach speeds upwards of 150 km/h, and can be appreciated much more thanks to some slow-mo:
  • The singles matches are a best-of-seven game format, with 11 points needed to win. If both players are tied at 10 points apiece, players must win by two points. Doubles matches are the same format, but are a best-of-five affair.

Gear up!

What do table tennis athletes need to succeed? An abbreviated list of intangibles: determination, dexterity, and cat-like, hand-eye coordination.

That being said, let's examine the tangible items; most important of all — the ball.

Just 40 millimetres in diametre and weighing 2.7 grams, the ball is composed of celluloid, the same material used to make film. The small, white orb is also filled with gas, which helps keep it lightweight and bouncy.

Canada's competition

To say China has dominated the table tennis podium since the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics may not be a strong enough statement. There have been 28 total men's and women's singles and team events in Olympic history, and the Chinese have taken 24 gold and 47 medals in all. 

Canada has yet to win an Olympic medal in the sport, but have its hopes pinned on two-time Olympian Mo Zhang and London 2012 veteran Eugene Wang to end that drought in Rio.

Speak the language

Here are three terms to sprinkle into conversation while watching table tennis to make you sound like a seasoned vet.

  1. Chop – The shot beloved by defensive-minded players, it utilizes backspin to force opponents into committing errors on the return. 
     
  2. Shakehands – The type of grip most widely used by players; it resembles shaking hands" with the racquet, and allows players equal ease on forehand and backhand shots.
     
  3. Loop – A type of stroke (or shot) used by players who concentrate their offence on an extreme topspin attack. 

Now you're all set for competition in Rio. All you need to do now is sit back and enjoy unbelievable highlights like this:

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