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HISTORY OF TABLE TENNIS

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The game has its origins in England as an after dinner amusement for upper class Victorians in the 1880s. Mimicking the game of tennis in an indoor environment, everyday objects were originally enlisted to act as the equipment. A line of books would be the net, a rounded top of a Champagne cork or knot of string as the ball, and a cigar box lid as the bat[citation needed].

The popularity of the game led game manufacturers to sell the equipment commercially. Early bats were often pieces of parchment stretched upon a frame, and the sound generated in play gave the game its first nicknames of "whiff whaff" and "Ping pong." A number of sources indicate that the game was first brought to the attention of Hamley's of Regent Street under the name "Gossima". The name ping pong was in wide use before English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd trademarked it in 1901. The name ping pong then came to be used for the game played by the rather expensive Jaques equipment, with other manufacturers calling theirs table tennis. A similar situation came to exist in the United States where Jaques sold the rights to the ping pong name to Parker Brothers. The term is now used as a generic name for table tennis.

The next major innovation was by James Gibb,[5] an English enthusiast of the game, who discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the U.S. in 1901 and found them to be the ideal balls for the game. This was followed by E.C. Goode who in 1903 invented the modern version of the bat by fixing a sheet of pimpled, or stippled, rubber to the wooden blade. Table tennis was growing in popularity by 1901 when table tennis tournaments were being organized, books on table tennis were being written, and an unofficial world championship was held in 1902. During the early 20th century the game was banned in Russia due to the belief that was held by the rulers at the time that playing the game had an adverse effect on players' eyesight. In 1921, the Table Tennis Association was founded in England, and the International Table Tennis Federation followed in 1926. London hosted the first official world championship in 1927. Table tennis was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Olympics in 1988. In the 1950s bats that used a rubber sheet combined with a underlaying sponge layer changed the game dramatically, introducing greater spin and speed. These were introduced to England by the sports goods manufacturers S.W. Hancock Ltd. and the Hancock bat gave Johnny Leach the edge when he became World Champion in 1949. The use of speed glue increased the spin and speed even further, resulting in changes to the equipment to "slow the game down."

Toward the end of 2000, the ITTF instituted several rules changes aimed at making table tennis more viable as a televised spectator sport. First, the older 38 mm balls were officially replaced by 40 mm balls. This increased the ball's air resistance and effectively slowed down the game. By that time, players had begun increasing the thickness of the fast sponge layer on their bats, which made the game excessively fast, and difficult to watch on television. Secondly, the ITTF changed from a 21 to an 11 point scoring system. This was intended to make games more fast-paced and exciting. The ITTF also changed the rules on service to prevent a player from hiding the ball during service, in order to increase the average length of rallies and to reduce the server's advantage.

Variants of the sport have emerged. "Large ball" table tennis uses a 44 mm ball which slows down the game significantly. This has seen some acceptance by players who have a hard time with the extreme spins and speeds of the 40 mm game.

There is a move towards reviving the table tennis game that existed prior to the introduction of sponge rubber. Classic table tennis or "Hardbat" table tennis players reject the speed and spin of reversed sponge rubber, preferring the 1940-60s style of no-sponge, short pimpled rubber of play which makes defense less difficult by decreasing the speed and eliminating any meaningful magnus effect of spin. Because hardbat killer shots are almost impossible to hit against a skilled player, hardbat matches focus on the strategic side of table tennis, requiring skillful maneuvering of the opponent before an attack can be successful.

 

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"The game is simplicity itself. lt ís playable on an ordinary dining-room table. It is lawn tennis in miniature, with a few modifications." So begins a short article on table tennis in the New York Sun , March, 1902. The anonymous writer had probably just received from England one of the earliest books on the 'new' game. He might have gone further to state - rather than merely to imply - that table tennis is directly derived from lawn tennis which was itself derived from real tennis, the ancestor of all racket games. After various abortive attempts to popularise forms of lawn tennis, including Major Wingfleld's 'Sphairistiké' which was produced in 1874 as a new and improved portable court for playing the ancient game of tennis, the modem game of lawn tennis was finally and firmly established with the first Wimbledon Championships in 1877.

The Honourable Ivor Montagu, whose name will be seen to feature very prominently in this 'history', suggested that table tennis is "not so much a derivative of lawn tennis as a collateral, born of the common parent, real or royal tennis, at about the same date." But he quoted no evidence for this claim and it must be regarded as suspect.

What other possibilities are there? Lawn tennis was designed, as its name suggests, as an outdoor game, and it was therefore very much subject to the vagaries of English weather. Today we somehow have the impression, perhaps from contemporary illustrations of the garden scene, that the sun always shone during Victorian summers. But no doubt there was sometimes a dash for cover and how then did the frustrated lawn tennis players amuse themselves?

Commonsense suggests - and one day, perhaps, it will be proved from private correspondence - that on such an occasion impromptu games of tennis were played on a table, that is table tennis. This is certainly the earliest title for the game, not ping-pong as so commonly supposed. Materials for play were readily to hand as all English households of any note, and certainly all those with a lawn tennis court, had a dining-room and a large dining-table. Such accessories as rackets and a net could be conveniently improvisad and a child's small rubber ball was most suitable for batting to and fro. In America during the late 19th century, it is reported by Comelius G. Schaad in his book A Manual of Ping-Pong (1928) that an indoor game based on lawn tennis was played with knitted balls so that damage to furniture was avoided.

Perhaps we should allow five years from the first Wimbledon lawn tennis championships before this would come about. That takes us to 1882 or thereabouts. Clearly we can never establish with any certainty when some informal version of the game was first played and there is also the question of definition. A hand-coloured lithograph of about 1810 which shows how school truants amused themselves in those days has a series of satirical scenes, one of which comprises some children playing with a bat and ball on a rectangular piano top. No net is shown. Can this be regarded as a rudimentary version of table tennis?

Table tennis might, of course, have been invented in another country. Andrea Franzoni, an Italian, said in his Storia degli Sport, 1936, that the game was played - as a mere pastime - among Japanese nobility several centuries ago. But the Japanese do not seem to make this claim, and it is almost certainly a confusion with the ancient game of battledore and shuttlecock which, however, does not employ a table, a ball or a net. Moreover, Almqvist and Wiksell in their Sporten, Sweden, 1967, Bernard Le Roy in his Dictionnaire des Sports, France, 1973, and Salvat in his Enciclopedia de los Deportes, Spain, 1976, all support the idea of English origin.

Between 1901 and 1902 about fifteen books on the game were published in England and the United States. Surprising as it may seem, no evidence has yet been found of any publications in other countries during this period. Copies of most of these have now been traced - either in the US Library of Congress or in private collections. Unfortunately, the copies held by the British Museum Library (now the British Library) were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War. Several of these books have a section on the origins of the game but the authors are lookíng back over twenty years or so and their references are often vague, speculative or based on hearsay.

 

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Mr. Arnold Parker, the first Ping-Pong Association champion. Table Tennis and Pastimes Pioneer.

Arnold Parker, the author of Ping-Pong, the Game and How to Play It, 1902, and one of the earliest champions, gives 1881 as the first date he had heard in connection with the game.He says that there was a rumour that someone in that year started to play with cigar-box lids for bats, champagne corks (rounded one assumes) for balls and a row of books for a net. T'his is rather vague but he states more confidently that the game really began about 1891 when a Mr. James Gibb persuaded John Jaques, the sports manufacturers, to register the title ´Gossima' for a version of the game which first of all used india-rubber balls until the introduction, about 1900, of celluloid (or xylonite) balls. The much repeated story - which probably originates with Parker - tells how Gibb, a prominent athlete, brought back some toy celluloid halls (sometimes said to be coloured) from the United States. Jaques soon saw how these balls were a huge improvement on the small india-rubber balls previously used.

Much credit should be given to Jaques for advancing the game in a general way far beyond mere commercial interest. The company had already promoted croquet in a similar manner.

'Gossima' was certainly registered (number 157615) on 16th July 1891, but not a single set seems to have survived and it must be doubted whether sets were ever put into production

under this title. There is no mention of the game in Cassell's Book of Sports and Pastimes, 1893. Sets with the title ´Gossima or Ping-Pong', dating perhaps from the late 1890s, are known. A little later this was reduced to 'Ping-Pong', suggesting - by onomatopoeia the 'ping' on the table and the 'pong' on the hollow vellum battledore. 'Gossima' presumably derived from 'gossamer', a garden cobweb, and intended to convey the notion of 'lightness' associated with the game, was recognised by Jaques as unsatisfactory.

Also in 1902 M.J.G. Ritchie and Walter Harrison published their Table Tennis and How to Play It. Ritchie, winner of lawn tennis championships in France, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Austria and runner-up in the Wimbledon Championships, took up the new game and was elected secretary of the All- England Table Tennis and International Games Club. His coauthor was secretary of the first club ever formed - the Cavendish - with its meeting-place at Armfield's Hotel, Finsbury, London. T'he authors, in a chapter 'The History of the Game' confirm that "for its conception and origin we must undoubtedly look to the sister game, lawn tennis. Table tennis exhibits nearly all the characteristics of the latter, and it is practically its replica in miniature." One of the authors had met an individual (not named) who had played the game, under the title of table tennis, about 1890, the implements being a table, net, book covers for rackets and a cork ball. Mr. R. S. Jones of St.John's College, Cambridge, and Leslie Jones were enthusiastic players and could probably be classed amongstthe inventors of the original game.

Wooden rackets (to use the more modern spelling) were soon adopted and rubber balls, but, as is well-known from other early references, these proved far too lively in a confined space and caused too much damage in the cluttered Victorian dining-room.

Also, compared to lawn tennis, the game lacked athleticism. For these reasons table tennis fell into obscurity until about 1900.

 

 

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