Table tennis bounces on in the PH

Benise P. Balaoing
Table tennis is an unpopular sport in the country, but one that Filipinos excel at

MANILA, Philippines— The sound has echoed across generations.

While the sport is now called table tennis in most local and international tournaments, it is still more popularly known as ping pong. A group of Filipino table tennis players, in fact, calls themselves “pongers.”

Derived from the sound the ball made when hitting the racket and the table—“ping” represented the higher pitch, “pong,” the lower—it is played is played children as young as 7 and seniors as old as 91.

But it has not only brought generations together. In fact, it has improved international relations between 2 hostile nations.

The ‘ping heard around the world’

According to PBS, the first signs of improved relationships between the United States, the world’s bastion of democracy, and China, a communist state, came during the 31st Table Tennis Championships in Japan.

While the American ping pong team was there, they received a surprise invitation from their Chinese counterparts for an all-expense paid trip to China. 9 players, 4 officials and 2 spouses were the first Americans to enter China since the 1949 Communist takeover.

10 journalists, 5 of whom were American, were also allowed to cover the event. During the week-long visit, the Americans played—and lost—exhibition matches with the Chinese, toured the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, interacted with Chinese students and factory workers and even watched the Canton Ballet.

Premier Chou En-lai told the American delegates in a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, “You have opened a new chapter in the relations of the American and Chinese people. I am confident that this beginning again of our friendship will certainly meet with majority support of our two peoples. “

That same day, the US announced plans to remove a 20-year embargo on trade with China. Chinese athletes reciprocated by visiting the United States soon after.

Famous athletes

Apart from making the first move to improve diplomatic relations, China has consistently performed well in the World Table Tennis Championships.

Some of their world class table tennis athletes include Zhang Jike (2011 Men’s Singles Category Champion), Ding Ning (2011 Women’s Singles Category Champion) and the multi-awarded Ma Long, Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Chen Qi.

But the Philippines also has its own table tennis athletes to be proud of.

Ernesto Ebuen, the Philippines’ topnotch table tennis player, ranks among the top ten table tennis players in the US. A 6-time Philippine national champion, he flew to the US in 2007 to participate in tournaments and beat some of the U.S.’s best athletes.

He was eventually recognized as an alien with extraordinary ability in sports and granted permanent US residency in reward.

He emerged as the first runner up in the World Championship of Ping Pong in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011. Currently, he is the president of the Philippine Table Tennis Academy, a non-profit organization that aims to smash poverty through cutting edge training programs for the Filipino youth.

The Philippine team also bagged 7 gold and 2 silver medals in the 2011 US Open Table Tennis Championships held in Wisconsin, courtesy of Richard Gonzales, Joseph Cruz and Peter Cua.

Hope of the fatherland

The Table Tennis Association of the Philippines website lists 50 table tennis clubs all over the country. There are also numerous sports clinics held every year for children interested in learning the sport.

The Marikina Sports Park, for one, is filled with elementary and high school students learning table tennis as part of a free sports clinic offered by Marikina mayor Del de Guzman.

Among the youth, University of Cebu’s Dannel Jay Tormis stands out from the pack. A Palarong Pambansa medalist, he even beat Southeast Asian (SEA) Games veteran Gonzales in the 20th Erne Jawad Cup.

He has also won the National Open and Inter-Scholastic Table Tennis Championships and has participated in many other tournaments.

He is also being touted to represent the Philippines in the 2013 SEA Games.

This year’s Palarong Pambansa will again include table tennis as a competition sport. The competition is open to elementary and high school students of both genders and will include both singles and doubles categories — and will perhaps produce yet another Dannel Jay Tormis for the country. —