Drop it: Table Tennis
I didn’t expect the reaction. Last Sunday, I had some time to kill before the 100-m sprint final. So I headed over to the Excel Center, a convention hall that was hosting the Olympic strength and combat sports–fencing, judo, wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, taekwondo–plus table tennis. I bounced around a few venues, and wound up in table tennis, where the men’s team competition was being held.
I had seen the sport live at Beijing 2008, and thought it was neat. But maybe I got caught up in the culture. The sport is huge in China, which dominates the Olympic competition. In Beijing, kids play table tennis in parks. How cool was it, I thought, to catch Olympic table tennis in the home of the best players?
But as I sat in the table tennis venue London, I found myself thinking, “What the hell is this doing here?”
What explains such a drastically different guttural response to ping-pong? (There, I said it–serious table tennis players hate that word, but that’s what it is). I suspect it may have been the lighting. That sounds insane, I know, but hear me out. The Excel Center venues are dark, save for a bright spotlight on the competitors. The scheme does a good job of keeping your focus on the event. So with my eyes honed in on the ping-pong players, it hit me. What am I really watching here? This is a rec-room sport, with a tiny plastic ball. Sure, these guys have quick reflexes. But so do magicians. The table tennis players don’t have to run, jump, or be particularly strong. They don’t have to move around all that much. They just don’t pass the Olympics smell test.
Add it: Tug-of-war
So if ping-pong were purged, what sport should be added? Seriously, wouldn’t tug-of-war be pretty amazing? What sport offers a better test of national strength? Give us your eight strongest guys, and tug away. The sport was in the Olympics from 1900 to 1920, but the International Olympic Committee ditched it because tug-of-war didn’t have a global governing body. Come on–if school kids can organize tug-of-war in the yard, and the ping-pongers can get themselves together, forming a tug-of-war committee can’t be that hard. I’m pulling for it.