From Nagoya, the U.S. team was invited to China on the government’s tab to play “friendship” matches in front of thousands of fans of a sport called the national game of China. Foreign reporters, granted rare visas into China, followed their every move. The U.S. players, ranked 24th in the world, even got some tutoring from their Chinese counterparts.
With the establishment of diplomatic relations, Mao Tse-Tung summed up the role of Ping-Pong saying “the little ball moves the Big Ball.”
Fifty years ago, the U.S. table tennis team was a ragtag group of teenagers, hippies and midcareer types who had to pay their own way to world events and usually lost. At the Olympics, Juan Liu, above (seeded 68th of 70 players), reached the Round of 16 before she was eliminated, only the third American player to do so. She is from Queens, N.Y., and co-owner of a sports club there. Liu who was born in Wuhan, China, previously competed on the Chinese team; she became an American citizen in 2016. The U.S. table tennis teams have some tough games ahead in Tokyo in a sport dominated to this day by China.
KAREN M. SUGHRUE is a senior producer at Retro Report.