‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ and Return of China,
Korean team’s First World Title

Chinese table tennis returned to international competition in the 31st WTTC held in Nagoya, 1971, after Cultural Revolution. The six years gap seemed to have no impact to the Chinese team as they won four gold medals with Lin Huiqing winning women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles while the men’s team winning the team event. In addition, they demonstrated some new techniques such as high toss service (‘sky serve’) and attaching different rubbers on a racket on different sides.

The host country Japan won only one gold medal in women’s team event. Sweden’s Bengtsson won Men’s singles and Hungary’s Jonyer-Klampar pair won men’s doubles winning gold for Hungary after a long time in WTTC. While European table tennis had its golden time in the early stages of WTTC with a defensive playing style, players started to focus on using strength given their physical advantage. During the time, players with powerful topspin drive got a lot of attention. The winners of the men’s doubles including Gergely who even had a distinct equipment brand are the main players who revived the Hungarian table tennis’ heyday.

▲ Hungary’s legends who had their heyday in the 1970s revisited the 2019 Championships held in Hungary.

In 1971 WTTC, the famous ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ drew more attention than the games itself. During the Championships, the U.S. team suggested friendly exchange visit to the Chinese team. A friendly match was hosted right after the Championships on 10 April as China accepting the offer and inviting the U.S. team. Next year in February 1972, the U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China and met with Mao Zedong, putting an end to the cold war tension. It was evaluated that the Nagoya WTTC bridged the two nations.

▲ Ping pong diplomacy was the topic of the world—China’s Mao Zedong and USA’s Nixon shaking hands.

The Sarajevo WTTC held in 1973 (today Bosnia and Herzegovina) was an unforgettable event for Korea as the women’s team won the Championships title, while the team was led by head coach Lee Kyung-ho and coach Chun Young-suk. The five players including Chung Hyun-sook, Park Mira, Lee Erisa, Kim Soon-ok and Na In-sook won the title winning every match of the preliminary rounds and final rounds against China, Japan and Hungary. Koreans welcomed and cheered the women’s team as they were the first team to earn a Championships title in an international ball game. It took 18 years until the Korean team to win the title again in 1991 with the unified ‘Korea’ team, while the sole victory made by the South Korean team could not be achieved since for about 40 years.

▲ Korean team who earned the first international gold medal for a ball game in Sarajevo.

At the 33rd WTTC held in Calcutta, India in 1975, China won men’s and women’s team events with their secret weapons. Lu Yuansheng and Ge Xin’ai surprised their competitors with irregular offenses utilizing special rubber on a long bump. The Korean women’s team could not defend the title, failing to defeat Ge Xin’ai.

Hungary’s Jonyer got the champion title at the WTTC, which was 22 years after F. Sido’s gold earned in Bucharest, Rumanina in 1953. He played against Yugoslavia’s Stipancic and it was the first final match held between European players in 22 years after the 1953 WTTC. One thing to note is that Japanese players began to use highly volatile adhesives around the time. Hungary’s Klampar is known to be the first player who used the adhesive and it was later referred as ‘Speed Glue’ until the use of it was banned in 2008.

▲ The heroines of Sarajevo interviewing with Table Tennis Monthly.
Written by_Han In-su | Photo by_Table Tennis Monthly Database & ITTF Museum