Category Archives: Table Tennis

Zhuang Zedong, great Chinese table tennis player, dies

As reported by the BBC, Zhuang Zedong, the great Chinese table tennis player of the 1970s, has died. I grew up on my dad’s stories of that era, in particular how the (in his opinion) even better Li Fu Yung was ordered to throw matches against Zhuang during the madness that was the Cultural Revolution.

Not many vids (and none of any quality) of those players, sadly.

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Marty Reisman, Ping-Pong Hustler

Highly entertaining article about a genuine character. Hat tip my Uncle Gerry for the find.

To whet your appetite, here’s a clip of Reisman defeating the great Victor Barna in the 1949 English Open:

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Marty Reisman, Ping-Pong Hustler
by Mark Adams
Men’s Journal
Mar 20, 2012

Marty Reisman’s athletic career may have peaked during the Truman administration — but that hasn’t kept him from living every day since like he is champion of the world.

Men in dashikis and turbans walk past the open windows, but it’s Marty who turns heads — dressed head to toe in custom-tailored black, wearing both aviator sunglasses and a Panama hat indoors. Even in Manhattan, octogenarians don’t typically leave the house dressed like Huggy Bear’s Caucasian twin.

Marty plays classic hardbat ping-pong, with a hardwood paddle covered by only a thin sheen of rubber. (“Table tennis” and “ping-pong” are just different names for the same sport.) This is what Marty calls “the witty game,” an urbane dialogue between two players that unfolds like a chess match, as hardbat grandmasters set up their winning shots several moves in advance. Games can stretch on for hours to the hypnotizing, metronomic plick-plock of the plastic ball, as soothing as rain on a tin roof. Hardbat bears about as much similarity to modern table tennis as “Folsom Prison Blues” does to “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Hardbat saved Marty’s life. He was a neurasthenic kid from New York’s dicey Lower East Side, who by the age of 10 had survived the collapse of his parents’ marriage and a nervous breakdown. “We were in a school assembly, right after singing ‘The Star-­Spangled Banner’ and about to say the Pledge of Allegiance,” Marty recalls, “and I was overcome with panic that I was going to die. I let out a tremendous scream in the middle of the assembly.” A nightmare month in the infamous Bellevue mental hospital followed. At 11, Marty picked up a paddle at a local community center and discovered his hidden talent. “I have no memory of ever playing poor table tennis,” he says. His wicked 115-mile-an-hour forehand kill shot would be dubbed the “Atomic Blast” by the ping-pong press. (Yes, such a thing once existed.) There was no Nick Bollettieri academy for promising pongers; Marty cut school to play 10 hours a day for nickels and dimes against shady characters in city parks. One notorious pedophile would bet boys double-or-nothing, until the only way to pay off the wager was through a noncash transaction. Marty quickly picked up the cardinal rules of the ping-pong hustle. Never suggest the game yourself — let the mark do it. Ditto on the price of the wager, in case the sucker senses he’s being set up. Keep the score close so that your winning looks like a fluke. By 14, Marty was supporting himself financially. “I only bet on a sure thing — myself,” he says.

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