Table tennis as a game is over 300 years old. That’s older than some countries.
With over 40 million competitive table tennis players worldwide, it is a hugely popular and exciting sport.
But where did it all begin? Read on as we take you through the origins of the game right through the Olympic table tennis history.
Origins of Table Tennis
Larry Hodges, USA table tennis Hall of Famer provides some information on the history of table tennis in his 1993 book Table Tennis: Steps to Success. He states that table tennis as a past time began in England as early as the 12th Century AD. It initially began as a parlour game played by the upper-class as an after-dinner game.
Versions of the game were reported played by British military officers stations in the late 1800s. The officers would use books as an improvised net and hit a rounded cork or golf ball back and forth with another book or cigar packet.
In 1926, following on from earlier predecessors, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was founded. It has served as the governing body for table tennis ever since. London hosted the first official World Championships the same year, and in 1988, following a major adoption of the game in China in the 1930s, table tennis became an official Olympic sport.
A Brief History of Olympic Table Tennis
The first country to host an Olympic table tennis competition was South Korea at the 1988 Seoul games. South Korea’s Yoo Nam Kyu was the first ever Olympic men’s singles table tennis gold medal winner, taking the gold at the 1988 games.
In the women’s singles that year, China took home the bronze, silver, and gold, as well as the gold and silver in the men’s and women’s doubles, respectively.
In fact, China has been a consistently dominant force in Olympic table tennis. As of 2016 China owns 85.7% of all the gold medals ever won in Olympic table tennis. This is the highest percentage of gold medals owned by a single country in any sport, the next closest being USA’s 78.6% basketball golds.
The sport has gone through a number of iterations and rule changes since its inclusion in the Olympic roster. After the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, changes were made to increase the size of the ball by 2mm (0.07in) to make it easier to follow for television audiences. This had the effect of increasing air resistance and slowing the ball down, making it easier to follow.
In 2001, the ITTF changed the scoring system from a 21-point system down to an 11-point system. This was designed to make the game faster paced and more exciting. Shortly afterward, they added rules preventing players from hiding the ball in their hand while serving, thus reducing the advantaged afforded to players during their service.
The final, major rule change stated that the ball must bounce a minimum of 16 cm into the air. This is to allow the receiving player a chance to see the serve happening, further levelling the playing field and making the game more competitive.
Whether you’re an Olympic table tennis professional, or someone just now learning the rules, there is a lot to enjoy from this competitive, fast-paced game. table tennis has a rich history steeped in heritage and continues to be one of the most played sports in the entire world.
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