January 2, (17x17x7)

Tips of the Week While I Was Away

2022 US Open in Ontario, California
Other than arguing with certain USATT people about USATT rules and illegal ads for alcoholic beverages (see below), I had a great time at the US Open, Dec. 16-21. I was there as both a player and coach. As I player, I won Gold in Over 40 Hardbat (eighth time - see video below), Silver in Over 60 Hardbat, and Bronze in Hardbat Doubles (with Dan Seemiller Jr.). As a coach, I only had one player - Ryan Lin, who won two bronzes, for Under 13 Boys' Singles and Under 15 Boys' Doubles. (I only coached the singles matches.) The Under 13 semis was so close - Ryan won the first and had five game points in the second before losing, 16-14 - with the lights going out and interrupting play at 15-14. The online scores incorrectly have the score as 14-12.) Here are complete US Open results, care of Omnipong.

In the past, we usually had a large group of junior players from the Maryland Table Tennis Center, but this year they went as a group to the Nationals in July, the Teams in November, and most of the top ones had a number of international and other events, and they couldn't miss more school - so Ryan was our only junior player this time. We'll be back at the Nationals in July, probably with close to 30 players. (I hear rumors it’ll be in Fort Worth, TX again, but nothing official yet.)

Here is video (33:49) of my Over 40 Hardbat Final against Ilya Rozenblat, which I won 21-12, 21-14, 27-25 (!). See this diving point at 24-all in the third, giving me my first match point! I immediately took a timeout to rest after that. (Yes, I need to get in better shape, but I can still move.) Here’s the last point, where I smack in a serve. (NEW - Here's it in slow motion, starting 13 seconds in, care of Jimmy Butler!)

It was strange that I won Over 40 Hardbat but lost the final of Over 60. (I was top seed in both.) In Over 60, held on the first day (Friday), I injured my right knee at 3-3 in the first game in the semifinals, and hobbled around much of the rest of the tournament. (But I figured out how to adjust for it and continued to move about, playing my usual forehand-attacking game.) In the final I played Jian Zhuang, who is normally a shakehand player with short pips on both sides, rated 2185. He was very good, and between that and my knee problem, I lost three straight, with only one game somewhat close. I don't know if I could challenge him healthy - but I wouldn't have to in Over 40, as that event was played on the last day of the tournament, day six, and he couldn't stay the whole time and so he didn't play that event.)

In the semifinals of Over 60, I had a wild match with Steve Claflin, who plays hardbat fulltime and runs the Classic Hardbat World Championships. As noted, at 3-3 I injured my knee, and he won the first, 21-10. (It was a best of five, but we agreed to play best of three.) Twice I came very close to defaulting, but I continued. In the second, I let 18-7 and 19-10, and he almost came back, before I won, 21-17. The third was crazier. I led 17-8, 19-11, and 20-14 match point, and then it was 20-19. I was adjusting for the knee problems, but I think that Steve was often playing down to me for much of the last two games, only turning it on when he was way down and had nothing to lose. I finally won that third game, barely at 21-19.

It was strange that all the hardbat events were best of five to 21 from the semifinals on. I checked, and verified that, just as in past years, that was meant only for Men's and Women's Hardbat Singles. But since it said all hardbat events on the entry form, it was best of five in the semifinals and finals of all events, including Over 40 and Over 60. Not good for my knee and for some elderly players!

It wasn't just the knee - I pulled a muscle while shadow-practicing between points. Jeez. But that was relatively minor compared to the knee problem.

I had a strange experience at lunch at Wendy's one day. Sitting two tables behind me were a man and women (not table tennis players). They had one cell phone and were taking turns SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS into it, passing it back and forth. It was something about their car dying and they were one and a half miles away. But that wasn't the really interesting part. As I got up to go, the man (who had been screaming just seconds before) walked over, and said (and if I gave you one thousand guesses, you would never guess this): "Excuse me, may I recite poetry to you?" I was somewhat stunned. I said I had to go, but he went ahead and recited a poem for about a minute, something about hearts and question marks, probably something about how a question mark with its mirror image looks like a heart with a dot over it.

There were a number of panels at the Open, similar to how they did a few years ago. This included the annual USATT Assembly (see segment below). Since the panels generally started around 6:30 or 7:00 PM, and I was always playing or coaching at that time, I wasn't able to attend others. (Many others had the same problem. I only made the Assembly because the tournament fell behind and so a match I was supposed to coach was postponed two hours.) Other panels were on the USATT Foundation; Club Development and Tournament Sanctioning Process; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in USASTT Membership; Meet and Greet the Olympians; and the High Performance Team. I was a bit disappointed there were no panels on coaching or junior development. At the 2017 US Nationals, I ran two of the panels - "Coaching Clinic: Intermediate and Advanced Serves," and "How to Set Up a Successful Junior Program."

Thanks to all those who put together and ran the tournament! Many of us were especially appreciative that, after years of gradually having more and more rubber-floored courts, they all had rubberized flooring! (With my knee problems, I would not have been able to continue on cement.) With a shortage of tables, the desk crew did a superhuman job keeping things together.  

Afterwards, I flew to San Francisco to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. We toured Alcatraz on the first day. Here's a picture my six-year-old niece Ellie drew after I gave her a table tennis lesson - they have a table in their garage. She loves forehands and serving, absolutely and stubbornly refuses to even try backhands. Maybe next year.

And now, some issues that came up at the US Open. Skip ahead if not interested – a lot of it is about rules and bylaws. (New Year’s Resolution: Pay less attention to USATT so I don’t get drawn into these things...)

Alcoholic Beverages Advertised at US Open
If I gave a blow-by-blow account of the often behind-the-scenes debate on advertising alcoholic beverages on the barriers and table numbers on feature courts one and two, this blog would become a book. A long one. Instead, I'll summarize. And believe me, I’m still amazed that such a seemingly simple thing escalated. It would have been very easy for USATT to simply realize they shouldn’t be doing these ads, since they are barred by ITTF rules - more on that below - but decide it was too late for the Open since they had limited barriers and couldn’t redo all the table numbers.

There were three issues.

  1. Should USATT accept ads and sponsors for alcoholic beverages?
  2. Who should make this decision?
  3. Was it legal to advertise them in the playing courts at the US Open?

The advertiser in question was Dream Blue, a hard liquor company from China. (More on this below.) They had large ads on both sides of seven barriers in the two feature courts 1 & 2 (so really 14 ads), as well as on the table numbers on all 77 tables, plus in multiple signs just outside the playing courts. (On Dec. 20, I emailed the USATT Board Chair, Richard Char, asking how much money USATT received from Dream Blue, and he said he'd get back to me, but he hasn't done so yet. I asked several board members, and none knew anything about it or how much money we were receiving.) Let's go in order.

1) Should USATT accept ads and sponsors for alcoholic beverages?
To start with, here is the ITTF and USATT rule on this:

  • Advertisements or markings in or next to the playing area, on playing clothing or numbers and on umpires’ clothing, shall not be for tobacco goods, alcoholic drinks, harmful drugs or illegal products…

This came up in a past USATT board meeting many years ago. I was at the meeting. At the time, it was illegal in the USATT bylaws. The question was discussed for quite some time, with the idea of changing the bylaws. In the end, though there was no vote, and all of the board members at the time were against it, and so none proposed changing the bylaws. Ironically, a few years later the bylaws were rewritten, and that bylaw was left out.

Personally, I'm against the idea, but I'm not going to write an essay here on why. (I'm a non-drinker and my primary role at major tournaments is coaching junior players from my club's training program – so I’d prefer not to have this bad influence.) But I'm not going on a crusade against this if the policy-making branch of USATT decides to change long-standing policy and allow this. Which gets us to the second issue.

2) Who should make this decision?
The policy-making branch of USATT, obviously. From Section 7.2 of the bylaws (bolds are mine):

  • 7.2. Functions of the Board. The USATT Board shall represent the interests of the table tennis community for USATT in the United States and its athletes by providing USATT with policy, guidance and strategic direction.
  • 7.2.d. Set policy and provide guidance and strategic direction to management on significant issues facing USATT;

Alas, the decision in this matter was made by the USATT CEO, not the USATT Board, though the board chair promised me at the Open that it would be an agenda item in an upcoming board meeting. Making such a major change in policy should be made by the policy-making branch of government, the board of directors.

And now we get to the long, nitty-gritty issue...

3) Was it legal to advertise alcoholic beverages at the US Open?
No, it was not. As noted above, the ITTF bylaws make it illegal to advertise alcoholic beverages in the playing area. The prospectus (i.e. entry form) says, "The 2022 US Open Table Tennis Championship matches will be conducted under the ITTF Rules." Based on ITTF rules, the ads were blatantly illegal. Also based on ITTF rules, the referees interpret the rules, which would include the wording on the prospectus. (From the USATT Tournament Guide, 4.4.5a, the referee "Is the final authority on interpretation of the rules and regulations as they apply to the tournament." The ITTF Handbook concurs, saying, "The referee shall be responsible for: deciding any question of interpretation of Laws or Regulations, including the acceptability of clothing, playing equipment and playing conditions.")

The prospectus then says, "Rules of match play are determined by the Referee. All matters, issues, guidelines, and ancillary decisions beyond match play will be determined by the Tournament Director in accordance with USATT Policies and Procedures, including the USATT Member Code of Conduct." (We'll get back to this.) After reading the relevant wording, the Referee Team (which is how I was asked to refer to them), which included both the Referee and Deputy Referee/Chair of the USATT Umpires and Referees Committee, both ruled the ads were illegal. (I asked them.)

When the issue came up at the USATT Assembly -  mostly with the USATT CEO (Virginia Sung) and Board Chair (Richard Char) - they insisted that the US Open was not played under ITTF rules, since it wasn't ITTF sanctioned. I had to read to them the specific statement from the prospectus (see above) that it was played under ITTF rules, but they still disagreed. As I pointed out, if it were not being played under ITTF rules, what rules were we playing under? There are USATT rules (effective Jan. 16, 2022), which are basically the ITTF rules with some additions. But they have the exact same statement as the ITTF rules about alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

Then the argument switched to the two follow-up statements in the prospectus that give the Tournament Director (Mike Babuin) limited authority over issues beyond "match play." (Limited because he still has to follow USATT Policies and Procedures, including the USATT Member Code of Conduct – more on that below.) The first problem here is that the term "match play" does not appear anywhere in the ITTF or USATT rules – it’s a made-up term, and so the referees have to interpret it. But as noted, the Referee Team had already ruled that the ads were illegal. (I believe they ruled that anything in the playing area was considered "match play" in this context.)

However, the referees also told me they had been overruled by the CEO. That's illegal – neither the CEO nor the Tournament Director can overrule the referees on a question of rules. Even if you interpret the rules to say that the Tournament Director has the authority to do this (i.e. it wasn't about "match play" and the Referee Team are overruled on this interpretation, even though they are the ones who do the interpreting), we run into a second problem - the Tournament Director wasn't the one who did the overruling. The CEO did.

The third problem here is that even the Tournament Director cannot overrule the referees on this. (And he didn't, to his credit. His focus was on running the tournament.) Why can't he? The prospectus says, "…decisions beyond match play will be determined by the Tournament Director in accordance with USATT Policies and Procedures, including the USATT Member Code of Conduct." And the USATT Code of Conduct says, "Abide by all applicable USA Table Tennis rules and regulations…" Since the USATT rules specifically forbid advertising alcoholic beverages in the playing area (just as the ITTF rules do), the Tournament Director would have to be in accordance with them, based on the very wording on the prospectus. (Italics above are mine.)

[And no, you can’t arbitrarily declare this USATT rule is not “applicable” and then use circular reasoning to declare that since the rule isn’t applicable, the Tournament Director doesn’t have to be in accordance with it, and use that to argue that the therefore the rule isn’t applicable – which was the starting point. Circular reasoning.]

It's the second year in a row that the CEO has overruled the referee on a question of rules. (Last year the referee ruled a racket to be illegal, but the CEO, then also the tournament director, illegally overruled him on this rules question. When umpires subsequently also ruled the racket illegal, the CEO ordered the matches played without umpires, and that the racket could be allowed.) I've run 203 USATT sanctioned tournaments - can you imagine the trouble I'd be in if I illegally overruled a referee like this? In my 46 years in the sport, these are the only two times I've ever seen it happen. Where is the accountability? (If I started citing past issues I've blogged about, this blog would turn into a book.)

They did find video of matches at the 2022 Worlds where there was an illegal logo for an alcoholic beverage company on the flooring, and used that to justify our similarly breaking this rule. (You had to be Chinese to know this as the logo was just Chinese lettering.) I emailed ITTF about this on Dec. 20, but they haven't gotten back to me. However, arguing that it's okay to break the rules because you catch someone else breaking the rules isn't a very good argument. I can show you video of top players serving illegally at those same Worlds, so does that mean we can all serve illegally? Since many athletes have illegally used steroids, does that mean we can too?

Another argument that was made (though not at the USATT Assembly) was that since Dream Blue also sold non-alcoholic drinks, it wasn't actually an alcoholic beverage company. But that's silly - Budweiser,  Heineken, and most other major beer companies also sell non-alcoholic drinks, but few would argue they are not alcoholic beverage companies. If you go the Dream Blue web page (and I’m only giving their web page so people can verify on their own they are a hard liquor company), before you can get there a page comes up asking, "Are you of legal drinking age in your country of residence?" When you click on that, the next headline is, "Dream Blue is our high-end series. Carrying on traditional craftsmanship and distilling techniques from ancient Yanghe, we use base liquor stored for centuries underground…" A little Googling shows that the liquors advertised there range from about 40% to 52% alcohol. Yeah, that's hard liquor. (Let's be honest - these various arguments about allowing alcoholic beverage ads at the US Open were not about whether they were legal; they were about rationalizing rules they had already broken.)

The big issue here isn't just whether to advertise alcoholic beverages in the playing areas at USATT tournaments. It's more about who sets such policies, and the questionable practice of a CEO overruling referees on the rules.

Someone asked, "What do you expect us to do, replace all the barriers when we don't have enough barriers to take their place?" That's not the issue. If a tournament illegally has cement floors - i.e. they forgot to put it on the entry form - then when players show up and discover this, you don't cancel the tournament, the directors simply acknowledge the mistake and make sure the mistake doesn't happen again. Similarly, all the CEO had to do was acknowledge they had made a mistake and promise it wouldn't happen again. Instead, they doubled down, insisting it was legal and throwing every rationalization on the wall they could think of, hoping something would stick.

This whole issue isn't new - I blogged about this issue on December 5, and as the CEO said at the USATT Assembly, "We read Larry's blog every Monday." (I’m really tired of writing about USATT and hope to focus more on coaching in my blogs, but these issues keep coming up. I feel like most discussions with certain USATT people are pointless since they are not discussing what’s right, they are rationalizing what they want to be right.)

The reality is that USATT messed up on this issue, and doubled down when it was pointed out. I'm told I've been called all sorts of names behind the scenes, of which "troublemaker" is just one. But who are the troublemakers, the ones who break the rules of our sport, or the ones who simply point it out?

After all this, I need a drink . . . where’s my Dr Pepper?

USATT Assembly
The start of this was mostly reports from the CEO and others. Then they opened it up to questions, and I had plenty about both the assembly and the alcoholic beverages questions on ads I raised above.

The USATT Assembly was another example of ignoring the USATT bylaws. As I blogged about previously, the bylaws require notice of the Assembly be made 30 days in advance; instead, the news item on it went up seven days in advance. (It was not on the originally published entry form either, though they added it later, I think about the time the news item went up. It wasn’t there 30 days in advance, and it’s not exactly “notice” to retroactively add something to column 2 of page 9 of the entry form well after it had already been published.)

But the bylaws also say, "The annual USATT Assembly shall be held in conjunction with a Board meeting." There is a reason for this - when the idea of the USATT Assembly came up, the whole idea was that board members would listen to members, and then meet where they could discuss those issues. But no board meeting was held at the US Open in conjunction with the USATT Assembly.

I raised this issue at the Assembly, and was told that several members (mostly players) did not want to hold a meeting at the Open, since they were playing. This is reasonable. However, what is not reasonable is that there was nothing in the minutes about the board deciding to ignore this bylaw. The only mention is in the Sept. 6, 2022 minutes, which simply says, "Board Chair Char reported that the next USATT Board Meeting will be held on Monday, December 5, 2022." (That was later changed to Dec. 7, and was a Zoom meeting, held nine days before the US Open.) This is an actual USATT bylaw that's being broken without so much as a vote on whether to do so. To be blunt, they knowingly broke our own bylaws and left it out of the minutes.

My recommendation – if you have to violate the bylaws, then have a vote on it. Better still, have the meeting the afternoon or night of the last day of the tournament, when most players are done. (This came up several times when I was on the board, and we did that sometimes.) Or simply have a Zoom meeting immediately after the Open, which could be said to be in conjunction with the Open. But you can’t just ignore the bylaws when they are inconvenient. (Side note – the USATT Assembly should start at perhaps 8PM, not at 6:30PM when many are still playing or coaching.)

"We Need More Tables!"
While mostly on time, tournament often fell behind, either overall or with individual events, though not nearly as badly as last year’s Open. By most afternoons, many matches were an hour or more behind, though not in all events, and often only due to conflicts that were difficult to resolve with the limited tables. I don't fault those who ran the US Open. When I asked the heroic desk crew about this, I got variations of the same thing: "We need more tables!" The general rule when running large tournaments is you need 10% as many tables as players. Since there were 970 players, that means 97 tables. But they only had 77. (I'm told they were promised more.) This meant that the tables were almost always fully scheduled - which is a recipe for falling behind in large tournaments. Except for matches at the start of the day, you always need about five or more free tables for delayed matches to catch up. Otherwise, there's no place to play them except by holding up other matches, which leads to what I call the "cascading" effect, where everything starts to fall behind. (Note - I've run 203 USATT tournaments and was Operations Director at two US Opens, so I know a little about these issues.)

US Open Improvements

  1. More tables. Need at least 10% of the number of entrants. Except for first matches in the morning, in a large tournament like this you need to always have five or more tables open for delayed matches.
  2. Organize the posted draws. Need to have them in logical order - use listing from entry form - ideally with headings for each. Plan it out in advance. With 100+ draws, it became incredibly difficult to find individual draws when they are posted in chronological order. That’s easier for the organizers, but makes things difficult for players, coaches, and spectators.
  3. Post the draws online the day or night before.
  4. Clarify or reword the term "match play," since it isn't a defined term.
  5. Clarify if setting the policy for accepting alcohol and tobacco ads should be by the policy-making branch of USATT (the board of directors), the CEO, or the tournament director. (Should be the board, of course.)
  6. Need food in playing hall on the last day. For some reason, they didn’t show that day.
  7. Pizza was good, but really, Really, REALLY should have Chinese food. Pizza and Chinese food and everyone's happy.
  8. $5/bottle for water is way too much. (Water has usually been provided in past US Opens and Nationals and are free at Teams.) Either provide it free, provide it cheap from USATT, or require the venders sell it cheaper. Players go through a lot of water, and at $5/bottle it becomes a huge expense. Reality - many just bought a case of water from outside.
  9. Create a "Tournament Hosts" group or equivalent. Their only purpose is to look at the tournament from the players’ point of view and find ways to make the tournament better. An example of this was Dell and Connie Sweeris at the two successful US Opens in Grand Rapids. Bring them, or others such as Dan Seemiller, Dave & Donna Sakai, etc., and we might be amazed at how much better the tournaments become.
  10. USATT Assembly and other meetings should start later, not while everyone's playing. Perhaps at 8PM. It should also have a public agenda and a description for first-timers.


George Braithwaite Major League Table Tennis
Here’s the info page. The league, from the Boston to the Washington DC region, with 3-5 on a team, starts in January, with the final in April. “The purpose of the league is to facilitate individual competitiveness and team spirit of players in various clubs thereby creating more interaction and friendship through team-based table tennis competition. By increasing participation in the Olympic sport of table tennis through the vast number of table tennis players in the United States, Pongpace sets the foundation of making table tennis a major sport in the country.” ENTER SOON!

Kanak Jha's USADA Suspension
This was a shocker, but let's wait for more details to come out. All I know about this is what is below. Kanak was US Men's Singles Champion four straight years, 2016-2019 (he hasn’t played in it since apparently due to conflicting overseas matches), and is current world #28, the top ranked US player. On December 18, he posted the following on Facebook:

On December 1, I was given notice by the US Anti-Doping Agency that they are provisionally suspending me from competing or participating in ITTF, any clubs or member associations affiliated events, effective immediately, as a result of having missed three USADA tests within a 12-month period. As a professional athlete competing at a high level, I am required to comply with USADA’s Anti-Doping Rules and make myself available for random testing.

I have requested and will receive an arbitration hearing to contest the missed tests. The judgement for the case will most likely be done in first quarter of 2023. I am hopeful that the arbitration committee will rule that the circumstances warrants a dispensation in one or more of the missed tests.

Here’s a possible explanation – someone posted the following on the mytabletennis.net forum:

According to some German New Articles, Kanak changed his residence in Ochsenhausen but negligently forgot to inform the USADA of his new address. So, when the USADA inspectors went to his old address to conduct the inspection/tests, Kanak was of course not present for the test because he was already residing elsewhere.

USATT’s Suspension List
I was shocked to discover that a member of the USATT’s Board of Directors, Dan Reynolds, is now on the public USATT Suspended list, effective December 27. I have no idea what happened – just what’s on the page. (See the fifth and last case.) Let’s not jump to conclusions – we have no idea at this point what the facts are or what it's about, who made the complaint, and whether there is any evidence. (Dan is not even allowed to discuss the issue.) This could also have major political implications as the USATT board of directors will be voting for the chair of the board later this month (January), and many believe Dan would be running for the position, or (since the board is somewhat split right now) would cast a decisive vote. (And yes, the timing of this is suspicious – but we just don’t know yet what the facts are.) The suspension is a temporary measure, “Pending Investigation and Resolution of Complaint.” Anyone can make such a complaint, and that leads to an immediate suspension pending investigation. But until the matter is resolved, it says he is “suspended from participating in any and all USATT-related activities and events.” IF it turns out he is innocent, and yet is barred from the running for or voting in the board chair election, then something very wrong has taken place, and USATT should do all in its power to make sure that doesn't happen. I think we need a timeline here of how long before this will be resolved, and the board chair vote should wait until afterwards, assuming the issue will be resolved in a reasonable amount of time. 

Jan-Ove Waldner: When the Feeling Decides: 2022's Updated Version
Here it is on Amazon! It's updated from the 2003 issue. Here's the Amazon description:

Jan-Ove Waldner: When the feeling decides was originally published in Swedish in 1997. For a long time the book has only been translated from Swedish to English, German, Japanese and Chinese. Now I am deeply happy that the English version of Jan-Ove Waldner: When the feeling decides, first launched in 2003, has been republished in an updated version. Since it is now many years since the original version was published some of the material has not really survived the influence of time. Such chapters have been left out in this edition. On the other hand, there is a longer fresh interview with Waldner, which puts the rest of the material in new perspective. I hope you, dear reader, will find the reading pleasant and the content still interesting.

News from All Over
Since I haven't blogged since Dec. 12 (due to US Open and Christmas), rather than try to list every interesting article, for this blog I'll just link to some of the main news and coaching pages, and you can pick and choose.

Best Backhand Ever? - Kalinikos Kreanga
Here’s the video (10 sec)!

Technical Journal Articles on Table Tennis

Happy New Year from Jorgen Persson
Here’s the video (24 sec) of the 1991 World Men’s Champion as he plays on a mini-table with a robot and a funny hat.

Table Tennis Mug – Big Guy vs. Jumpy Guy
Here’s where you can buy it!

Pabst Blue Ribbon Table Tennis Ping Pong Beer Vintage 1942 Ad Magazine Print
Here it is – and it’s only $12.59 on Ebay!

Spooky #161 FINAL ISSUE of Series (Harvey Comics 1980)
Here it is – and it’s only $3.74 on Ebay!

Are You the Table Tennis or Ping Pong Elf?
Here’s where you can buy the shirts at Amazon!

Big Paddle, Many Balls
Here's the gif!

Lego Table Tennis Robot
Here's the article and video (18 sec)!

World's Spinniest Shots
Here’s the video (8:23) from PongFinity!

The Greatest Game of Ping Pong I’ve Ever Seen
Here it is (54 sec)!

Send us your own coaching news!