If you want to know Chinese sports, you’ve got to know ping pong (table tennis) and badminton. These “small racquet” sports are trained for and played by Chinese athletes the way American pro athletes play baseball and football. It’s training and competition at the very highest level. If you haven’t seen a live pro badminton or table tennis match in China, prepare to be mesmerized when you do. The Chinese public knows and appreciates its athletes – and the international stars in these sports – in a way that’s difficult to grasp for a Western observer. The world championships in ping pong alternates between a singles and doubles competition and a team competition in alternating years. This year it’s the team event – and it comes to Germany this week. The Thomas and Uber Cup competitions in badminton will be held in Japan starting April 28. Read on.
World Table Tennis Team Championships: The Chinese refer to the world ping pong championships as the ä¸–ä¹’èµ› (“shi-ping-sai,” a short version of ä¸–ç•Œä¹’ä¹“é”¦æ ‡èµ›, “shi-jie ping-pang jin-biao-sai”). China simply dominated last year’s event in Shanghai, winning all five titles up for grabs (men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles). This year it’s the team competition in Bremen, Germany, which begin today and run through May 1. The International Table Tennis Federation website has all the details, and also has a great article on the Chinese teams – as always, they’re the ones to beat this year.
The competition will dominate CCTV-5 this week – the Chinese language schedule can be found online starting here. Live coverage from Bremen, according to CCTV-5′s website, will run Wednesday through Sunday, beginning each day at 3:40 p.m. China time (9:40 a.m. in Germany; 3:40 a.m. Eastern U.S. time).
An aside: last year the Li Ka Shing Foundation, which supports the efforts of Shantou University, was generous enough to fund a trip for myself and five sports journalism students to attend the event in Shanghai. The resulting work can be found in the “Links” section of this blog. We were helped immeasurably while there by the president of USA Table Tennis, Sherri Pittman. The ITTF website has a nice article on the members of the original U.S. “ping pong diplomacy” team that came to China thirty-five years ago this month. Sherri and several members of the team marked the 35th anniversary with a special event with their Chinese counterparts. Kudos to Sherri and Team USA for their generosity towards our program while we were in Shanghai, and best wishes to all the teams for a great competition this week in Bremen.
Thomas and Uber Cups: The Thomas Cup is badminton’s answer to the Davis Cup in men’s table tennis; the Uber Cup is the women’s team event. The two events, held simultaneously, start up this Friday in Japan. The first round of events will be held in Sendai from April 28-May 1 and then the event will move to Tokyo from May 3-7. The Malaysian website The Star is running an article today about the Malaysian men’s team and its chances against the formidable Chinese. This is an old article (2004), but Badminton Central has a nice introduction to these bi-annual team competitions in professional badminton. And if you just can’t get enough of badminton after that, check out the home page for the Asian Badminton Confederation, which includes the full playing schedule for the event. Then pick up that racquet and shuttlecock, and start seeing what all the fuss is about.
(Fun fact: The bird flu scare in China last year drove up the retail price of shuttlecocks, which use real birds’ feathers.)