First Olympic Appearance: 1988
by Mike Morrison and Mark Zurlo
With over 40 million competitive players and millions more playing recreationally, table tennis is the world's largest "participation" sport. Olympic table tennis is just like the game you're used to playing on the dusty table in your basement, except it's probably just a tad faster. Anyone who's seen Forrest Gump can attest to how fast the game can be. Balls in elite competitions can travel at speeds up to 160 kilometers per hour (almost 100 mph).
Also known as ping-pong because of the noise heard when the ball hits the paddle and then the table, table tennis was originally played with balls made of either cork or rubber and with rackets made of cardboard. Today, the balls are celluloid and the rackets are generally wood with only the finest rubbers and glues.
In 2000, the International Table Tennis Federation adopted the 11-point game rules for international play. A match is determined by the best of five, seven, or nine games. A game is won by the first side to reach 11 points, but you have to win by at least two. In order to avoid long, drawn-out games, if a game isn't won in 10 minutes, then it's time to implement the "expedite system." This means that if the receiving player or pair makes 13 good returns, the receiver shall score a point.
Since the sport's 1988 Olympic debut, China has dominated the sport of table tennis, recently winning three gold medals in the four events contested at the Athens Games. The Chinese team is now primed to dominate on home soil at the Beijing Games, where the competition will be held at Peking University Gymnasium. The venue will hold up to 8,000 fans, a sign of how popular the sport has become in the country.