August 4, 2017

ITTF Hall of Fame
One of my pet peeves is how international organizations can sometimes be so . . . short-sighted. Here is a classic example. How do you get into the ITTF Hall of Fame? Well, for players, the eligibility rules are very simple: “Eligibility for the highest honor in international Table Tennis requires that the player must have won 5 Gold Medals in World Championships or the Olympic Games.”

This is downright silly. Winning a gold medal in Singles, where you were the best player, is worth more than winning it in Doubles (Men’s, Women’s, or Mixed) or Teams, where your finish is largely determined by other players. The result is a travesty of justice. The rules dramatically favor players who happen to have strong teammates.

Let’s take Stellan Bengtsson as an example. He won Men’s Singles at the 1971 Worlds, and won Men’s Doubles and Men’s Teams in 1973. He had five other silver and bronze medals at the Worlds, but in the end, he “only” got three golds. He was ranked #1 in the world for most of three years, and won 67 international titles. Because China had far more depth in their players, the odds were stacked against Bengtsson, especially in Mixed Doubles and Men’s Teams – though he battled with them over and over. (He did have Kjell Johansson and Hans Alser as teammates, and Stellan and Johansson won Men’s Doubles and Teams in 1973. Johansson also won four golds at the Worlds, three in Men’s Doubles and one in Men’s Teams, and made the final of Men’s Singles in 1973, but also isn’t eligible for the ITTF Hall of Fame, based on their rules.) Table tennis wasn’t in the Olympics yet, so Stellan (and others before 1988) didn’t have that opportunity.

Result? Stellan Bengtsson is not in the ITTF Hall of Fame. That’s a joke. (Neither is Istvan Jonyer and a host of other Men’s World Champions – see listing below.)

Meanwhile, a player on the Chinese team who never really challenged to be the best in the world, as Stellan was, can get gold simply by being on their team, even if he doesn’t play the big matches.

Let’s compare Stellan’s record with, say, Chen Qi of China. He was a great player, and is deservedly in the Hall of Fame. At the Worlds, he won Men’s Doubles twice and Men’s Teams twice. He won Men’s Doubles at the Olympics. That’s five golds, the minimum.

But he was playing doubles with Ma Lin and Wang Hao, two of the best players in the world. In the Teams, he had Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Ma Long playing ahead of him – and in both years he won Men’s Teams, he didn’t even play in the final. In Singles, his highest world ranking was #5, and he spent most of his career in the #6-8 range. Stellan was ranked higher than #5 for much of a decade, much of it as #1.

But with the ITTF rules, Chen Qi is in, while Stellan Bengtsson is out. Really???

Peter Karlsson is another deserving Hall of Famer, and was inducted in 2003. He also won five golds, all at the Worlds – one for Men’s Doubles, and four in Men’s Teams, where he played with Waldner, Persson, Appelgren, and Lindh. His highest world ranking was #4. Is he really more deserving than all those who have been left out?

Let’s suppose USA’s Men’s National Champion Kanak Jha (age 16) becomes the best player in the world, and completely dominates for four years. He wins gold in Men’s Singles at the Olympics, and Men’s Singles at three consecutive Worlds. He’s among the greatest players in history, right? But Kanak (currently at world #212) is the only USA player in the top 400. So it’s unlikely he’s going to win anything in Doubles or Teams. So he only gets four gold medals. So no Hall of Fame for you, Kanak – sorry, you simply weren’t good enough!

Just think about this for a moment - you could win Men's or Women's Singles at the Worlds four times, something only done on the men's side by Viktor Barna [5 times] and Richard Bergmann (4 times), and on the women's side by Mária Mednyánszky (5 times) and Angelica Rozeanu (6 times), and you couldn't get into the ITTF Hall of Fame!!! (No one has won four or more since 1955.) 

There’s also something wrong with them inducting players during their playing career, instead of afterwards, as is done by every major sport that I know of. Ma Long was inducted into the ITTF Hall of Fame in 2013 at age 24 before he won his three biggest titles – gold in Men’s Singles at the 2016 Olympics (three years later!) and gold in Men’s Singles at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds. When he got in, he got in for winning Men’s Teams five times (once at Olympics, four at Worlds) and Men’s Doubles once. (He’s now won 12 golds at the Olympics and Worlds, and is still going strong at world #1.)

It’s also silly that they don’t take into account the World Cup, Pro Tour wins, or world ranking. Because of this, and the problems outlined above, other obvious choices also aren’t in. Below is a listing of modern Men’s World and Olympic Singles Champions (sponge era) who are not eligible for the ITTF Hall of Fame – and note that from 1969 to 1979 there were six consecutive World Men’s Singles Champions who are not eligible! Even Istvan Jonyer apparently isn’t good enough for the ITTF Hall of Fame – besides winning Men’s Singles at the Worlds, he also won Men’s Doubles twice, Men’s Teams once (not easy with China usually winning), and was ranked #1 in the world for about three years, and near the top of the rankings for about 15. By my count, there are 66 players in the ITTF Hall of Fame, but none of these players qualify - click on "show" on their linked Wiki page for their medal record:

When have a system that gives bad results, you change the system. There’s a reason why nearly every major sport votes on their Hall of Fame members, whether it’s baseball, basketball, football, soccer, boxing, tennis, and even USA Table Tennis.

[Note – I did find one interesting discrepancy. Li Furong is in the ITTF Hall of Fame, but he “only” won four golds, all in Teams. He lost in the Men’s Singles Final three straight times to Zhuang Zedong, 1961-1965, though it’s been said that he was ordered to dump all three times. I’m curious how he got it.]

Here’s an interesting photo of Kjell Johansson (leaping) and Stellan Bengtsson! (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

ITTF Education
Here is the ITTF Education Knowledge Base and ITTF Education Videos. They seem to do a good job here!

How to Do a Backhand Banana Flip
Here’s the video (39 sec) from Eli Baraty.

The Muscular System
Here’s the ITTF article.

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open
Here’s the home page for the event, Aug. 2-6. USA’s Nikhill Kumar, Michael Tran, and Alan Chen won the Cadet Boys’ Team title. Here are two articles on it:

Pyongyang Open
Here’s the home page for the event, in North Korea, Aug. 2-6, with articles, pictures, video, draws, and results.

T2APAC League
Here’s the home page for this professional league. Many of the best players in the world are competing in this India-based league. If you click on “Matches,” you can see video of these matches. (But that's one awkward name for a league!)

USATT Insider
Here’s the new issue that came out Wednesday.

USOC Coaching Newsletter
Here’s the August issue.

ITTF World Rankings
Here’s the ITTF article, Top spot yet again, milestone for Ma Long. “A milestone for Ma Long, listed in top spot on the Men’s World Rankings issued on Wednesday 2nd August, it is the 30th consecutive month that he has held the exalted position, the 60th occasion of his career.”

Dirk Wagner Profile of a Table Tennis Coach – Part 1
Here’s the article and video (17:09).

Ask A Pro Anything - Tomokazu Harimoto
Here’s the video (5:51) with Adam Bobrow and the 14-year-old whiz kid from Japan!

Michael Maze - Master Of Lob And Sidespin
Here’s the video (7:35).

Ma Long at Age 14
Here’s the video (4:02).

Around the World at Smash TT
Here’s the video (2:40) from a junior session – don’t get dizzy!

Types of Table Tennis Players
Here’s the humorous video (4:59).

Yeah Ping-Pong: Five Illegal Serves
Here’s the humorous video (3:30).

Is it Ping-Pong or Table Tennis?
Here’s the cartoon!

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