Gatien

April 22, 2014

Genetics and Table Tennis

The question sometimes comes up whether some people have a genetic advantage in table tennis. A troll raised this question in the mytabletennis.com forum, and while he was likely just trolling (you should see his postings in other threads!), it is an interesting question. (The thread has since been closed.) 

The troll argued that the Chinese have a genetic advantage that gives them faster reflexes, and that's why the Chinese dominate. It's nonsense. One could just as easily claim the Swedes have a genetic advantage since their country of nine million people dominated or played even with the Chinese (over one billion people) for many years. But anyone with a knowledge of the game understands the reality.

The Chinese are the best in the world right now because they have more players, more top coaches, and train harder than any other country in the world. It is a national sport there, and taken more seriously there than anywhere else in the world. Most European players train six days a week, with much of summer off. The Chinese often train seven days a week, and train all summer.

And yet even the mighty Chinese can fall behind smaller upstarts such as Sweden, and before them, Hungary. Why? For technical reasons. The Swedes and the rest of Europe began to dominate against the Chinese in the late 1980s/early 1990s because they were playing a modern two-winged looping game, while the Chinese were still trying to win with pips-out hitters. It wasn't until China fell behind much of Europe in the early 1990s (finishing seventh at the 1991 Worlds) that they completely changed course and not only developed modern two-winged loopers, but developed them at a higher level than the Europeans. And now they dominate with numbers, technique, and training. Before the Swedes it was the Hungarians, who beat or played even with the Chinese for roughly a decade (mid-1970s to mid-1980s) with Jonyer, Klampar, and Gergeley, with their two-winged looping (a precursor to the modern game) and (surprisingly) their forehand flips, which put the Chinese on the defensive even when they served.

And yet Germany is hot on their heels with Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #4) and Timo Boll (#9, but formerly #1). They also have Patrick Baum (#21), Bastian Steger (#27), Patrick Franziska (#37), Steffen Mengel (#49), Ruwen Filus (#62), and Christian Suss (#65). However, while their top two can match up almost even with the best Chinese, their #2 lags far behind China, who has world #1, 2, 3, 5, 6,and 7. Is it because of genetics? As a percentage of their population, Germany (population 82 million) is probably stronger than China - but no, I don't think Germany has a genetic advantage!!!

Actually, comparing whatever current country is challenging China isn't a fair comparison. It's one thing to choose a country at random and compare it to China. But when you pick the best out of all the European countries and compare to China, that's cherry-picking. I don't think Hungary, Sweden, or Germany have a genetic advantage in challenging the Chinese.

And yet genetics does help. Fast-twitch muscle is an advantage in table tennis, where speed is so important. At first glance, you'd think that the best sprinters and jumpers in the world would be great table tennis players, and China isn't very good in these events. The top eight fastest sprinters in history (100 meters) include five Jamaicans and three USA, with the next two spots Canadian - and yet Jamaica, USA, and Canada don't exactly dominate in table tennis. (Here's the top ten.) So perhaps the Chinese are overcoming a genetic disadvantage?

Liu Shiwen Injured

Here's the article. Will she be ready for the Worlds? Liu is ranked #1 in the world, has won three World Cups, and made the finals of the last Worlds, and the semifinals of the two before that.

Michelle Wie Hosts Charity Ping-Pong Event

Here's the article. She is currently ranked #10 in the world - for golf that is!

Ping Pong for Charity Tournament

Here's the home page (they raise money for brain fitness and mental health), and here's a Facebook posting where Dr. Scott Sautter says: "Current neuroscience says the best activity for the brain is probably aerobic exercise, and the easiest aerobic exercise is brisk walking a few times a week. However, I then say ping pong is far more fun, socially interactive and great for the mind, body and spirit! It's been said that ping pong is like aerobic chess requiring strategy, eye hand coordination, balance, stamina and a cool demeanor so that you remain calm even if you lost a point." 

Persson vs. Gatien

Here's a recent match (10:53, much of it exhibition) between 1991 and 1993 World Men's Singles Champions Jorgen Persson and Jean-Philippe Gatien (the lefty). Gatien looks older, but is actually only 45 (46 on Oct. 16), while Persson turned 48 today. Happy Birthday Jorgen!

Ariel Hsing for Class of 2017 Social Chair

Here's the video (2:01)! After the dancing start, Ariel talks starting about 52 seconds in.

Extreme Double-High Table Tennis

Here's the video (1:06), with the table top about eye level!

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November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

See my Thanksgiving links at the end of this blog.

Malware warnings all gone

It took a while, and I had to hire Sucuri Securities, but all the problems are over with Google blacklisting the site for malware that was long gone. Our long national nightmare is over. Or at least mine is. (One complication - apparently you might get a false malware warning if you visited the site recently. If so, clear your cache - sorry! - and it'll go away. That's what happened to me.)

No Blog Friday

I'll be coaching (and playing part-time) Fri-Sun at the North American Team Championships. Here's a preview picture!

Crystal Wang Enters the Stratosphere

Crystal Wang, age 10, is now rated 2245. This is by far the highest rating ever achieved by a girl at that age, and the second highest for anyone that age, boys or girls. The highest rating ever achieved by a 10-year-old is Kanak Jha two years ago at 2265. (And Crystal still has three months to gain 20+ points before she turns 11.) No one else has even been close to breaking 2200 at that age. For perspective, Ariel Hsing's highest rating as a 10-year-old was 2066, and Lily Zhang's was 1887 - and these two are now both our best junior girls and our best women as well.

To recap what I wrote in my blog last week (Nov. 13), Crystal already had achieved the highest rating ever for a 9-year-old last year, boys or girls, at an even 2150. She was rated 2166 earlier this year when she began complaining of wrist problems, and had three poor tournaments in a row, dropping to 2099 - still #1 in the country for Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13. They x-rayed the wrist and discovered she'd been playing with a fractured (i.e. broken) wrist. So she had to take most of the summer off. She started up again at the end of the summer, and now she's even better than before. At the Potomac Open she defeated players rated 2334, 2240, 2205, and 2149, without losing to anyone under 2200. It's no fluke as she just before the Potomac Open she defeated two players over 2300 to make the final of the MDTTC Elite League. (Crystal trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

Crystal (yes, she was born in the U.S.) plays a very modern two-winged looping game, hitting and looping on both sides. She's a member of the USA Cadet Girls' Team, making the team last year as a 9-year-old competing in an under 15 event. She trains long hours, day after day, with Coach Jack Huang her primary coach, though she also trains with the MDTTC coaches and players. She and Amy Wang (no relation, a year younger, coincidentally rated 2099, from NJ) are essentially Ariel & Lily, Part II, east coast version - the new Dynamic Duo, but rated even higher for their ages. The Walloping Wangs? But they both have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to follow in the huge footsteps of Ariel and Lily. 

And to think I'll have to write about this all over again if Crystal breaks 2265 in the next three months....Jeez.

Just to be clear, I'm not obsessed with ratings, and in fact believe they often hurt the sport, especially at the junior stage. (Here's my article on Juniors and Ratings, which I also linked to yesterday.) But they are usually a pretty decent indicator of level.

Update: 2013 USA Junior and Cadet National Team Selection Procedures

There's a mysterious change in the USA Junior and Cadet Team Selection Procedures. Here's the note from the USATT web page - it sure would be helpful to have some hint on why they withdrew the previous procedures. Below is the text from the message:

  • The previously published selection procedures for the 2013 Junior and Cadet National Teams are hereby withdrawn.  The High Performance Committee will promptly review and revise those procedures, subject to the approval of the Athletes’ Advisory Council.   The selection procedures then will be republished.
  • As previously announced, the 2013 Junior and Cadet Trials will be conducted in Las Vegas at the U.S. National Championships on Dec 18 – 22, 2012.  All entries have been received, and all who entered will compete for spots on the National Team.
  • The revised 2013 Selection Procedures will be posted on the USATT website NO LATER THAN Dec. 10, 2012.

The Power of Zhang Jike

Here's a musical highlights video of World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (6:07).

Jean-Philippe Gatien

Here's a highlights reel (5:02) of 1993 World Men's Singles Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, often called the fastest man in table tennis. (He and 2004 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist Ryu Seung Min should have a race!) The key thing to see when you watch Gatien play is how much of the table he covers with his forehand without backing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Last year I did an entire blog on Thanksgiving and Table Tennis. Rather than try to up that, I'll simply link to it so you can again enjoy these nine items, including the Table Tennis Thanksgiving Turkey.

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July 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Ready Position.

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Five

On Friday we completed Week Five of our summer camps. (We have six more to go!) Week Six starts today.

The big highlight on Friday was the Washington Post coming in to do a feature on Derek Nie and the Maryland Table Tennis Center. While Derek (the recent U.S. Open Boys' 11 and Under Champion) was the focus, they also interviewed me, coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang, and players Nathan Hsu, Amy Lu, and Timmy La. They are sending a photographer in later on, with the story running in a week or so. 

I gave a lecture and demon on pushing in the morning. And then it was our usual Friday morning's "Player's Choice," where players decided what they wanted to work on when they did multiball training with the coaches. I was impressed that most in my group did footwork drills. At the end of the session I did my usual "surprise" (to new players) and brought out bags of candy - Hershey's Kisses and Jolly Ranchers (hard candy). I spread them out thickly near the end of the table, and the kids took turns trying to knock them off (two shots each). Whatever they knocked off, they got! (I allowed trades, and the Jolly Ranchers proved the more popular, with many of the kids trading in their chocolate kisses for these.)

At lunch I was fascinated by what kids know about. The kids were all talking about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, presumably because it happened during a showing of the new Batman movie, which all planned to see.  They are all Pixar experts. But many only vaguely knew of Mitt Romney or the war in Afghanistan. Of course they know everything about online places like Facebook, games, etc.

USA Olympic Table Tennis Program

Here's the nine-page program booklet for USA Table Tennis at the Olympics. (It's rather large at 27.7 MB, due to the many graphics.) It profiles the USA players, plus lots of background info, including the playing schedule. The Olympics start this Friday, with table tennis starting on Saturday.

Chinese Olympic Team

Here's an article about the Chinese team training in Leeds in England. Here's another one, which includes a team picture.

The Spin and Speed of Table Tennis

Here's a video that explains some of the science of spin and speed in table tennis, starring Olympian Erica Wu. 

The Mythical Double Bounce Loop!

Go to 2:26 of this match between Jean-Philippe Gatien and Chuang Chih-Yuan. Now watch the loop by the lefty Gatien - yep, it bounces twice! There really is such thing as a double-bounce loop. Now all we have to do are find the mythical Loch Ness Bigfoot that plays table tennis on the grassy knoll in Area 51 and we'll have seen all the wonders of the universe.

Milo Kerrigan Does Table Tennis

Here's a funny table tennis video by comedian Milo Kerrigan (2:10).

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