Last Updated on October 27, 2023 by Sorin Petroj
The Olympic Games is a tradition that stretches back 3000 years in the table tennis Olympics history. This article is an overview of the Olympic history of table tennis.
In Greece, the first Olympic Games were held as a tribute to the mighty Greek God Zeus, who lived on top of Mount Olympus. Throughout the millennia of the tournament’s existence, it has seen its share of ups and downs. There weren’t too many games enlisted during the early days as a part of the tournament.
Gradually, the tournament became a global phenomenon. More games were added to the list of games that could be played in the Olympics.
The Olympic Games are held every four years with a wide range of sports. The last session of the Olympic Games was held in 2021. The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing. Follow the live stream by clicking here. Among all the sports, we will discuss table tennis today and investigate the history of this sport at the Olympics.
When Did Table Tennis Start?
It is widely believed that table tennis was invented by upper-class members of society back in the Victorian era, around 1880. It was intended to be a gentle alternative to lawn tennis.
The earlier versions of the game used to be played with whatever equipment was available at the said time; often, a line of books would serve as a net, a round-topped cork as the ball, and the lid of a cigar box would be used as a paddle.
Table tennis was introduced on the program for the 1924 Summer Olympics, where it was a demonstrated sport. The sport was taken to new heights in 1926 with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) formation following meetings in London and Berlin.
The first table tennis world championships were organized in 1926 as well. But the sport had to wait decades before it would become a part of the Olympics.
It’s noteworthy that the sport has come a long way since its invention. The athletes use high-grade wooden carbon fiber paddles coated with rubber and lightweight, hollow celluloid ping pong balls. Because of the high-grade equipment, the athletes can now hit the ball and send it flying at over 150kmph speed!
History of Table Tennis in The Olympic Games
Table tennis is one of the games played in every session of the Olympic Games. It was first introduced to the Olympics in the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. Since that year, table tennis has had a growing profile and is one of the fastest-growing sports played by more than 100 million people worldwide.
The first table tennis session in the Olympics included singles and doubles tournaments for both genders in the debut tournament. Then, later on, back in 2008, the doubles tournaments were scrapped by the 2008 Summer Olympics committee, and team events replaced them.
Ma Lin from China was the winner of the 2008 Olympics Table Tennis has won the highest number of World Cups among other table tennis players in history but now tied with Fan Zhendong as of 2020.
Wang Nan from China is the best athlete in the women’s division, with four gold medals. Wang Nan shares this achievement with female table tennis players – Deng Yaping and Zhang Yinin from China. She has a silver medal in table tennis. Chen Jing, also from China, was the first to win two medals back in 1988 and won two medals for Chinese Taipei. Her most recent medals were in 1996 and the 2000 Table Tennis Olympics.
Table Tennis Olympics History – China
Since 1992, the winners of the singles women’s division have gone on to win the doubles and team events as well; they are Deng Yaping (1992/1996), Wang Nan (2000), Zhang Yining (2004/2008), Li Xiaoxia (2012), Ding Ning (2016), and Chen Meng (2020).
No other players other than Deng, Zhang, and Ma Long have defended their singles titles in either men’s or women’s divisions. In double events, Deng Yaping, Qiao Hong (1992/1996), and Wang Nan (2000/2004) were the only ones to retain and defend both titles. Thirteen table tennis athletes have won four medals in the history of table tennis, and six have won three medals.
So far, China is the most successful country in the Olympics table tennis, and part of the reason why Chinese players are known to dominate table tennis at the Olympics. They have won 53 medals in total, including 32 gold medals, 20 silver medals, and 8 bronze medals. Chinese table tennis athletes have been able to win at least one medal in each Olympic table tennis event since 1992!
The Chinese team at the Olympics
At the 2008 Table Tennis Olympics, China managed to win almost all medals in both the men’s and women’s singles games. China won both team events. This was something that had never been witnessed before, and they concluded their Olympic session with 18 medals.
After China, the second most successful nation in the Olympic table tennis events is the country South Korea. South Korea is the only nation in the history of Olympic table tennis to win double-digit medals.
From the 2020 Summer Olympics, 115 table tennis medals were awarded; among them were 37 gold, 37 silver, and 41 bronze medals to 102 players from 12 national Olympic committees. There were no third-place competitions held in 1992, and because of that, four additional bronze medals were awarded.
The First Table Tennis Championship
The first-ever table tennis championship was held on December 11-14-1901 in London’s Royal Aquarium with over 200 contestants. Back around 1901, the entire Britain was down with ping pong fever. The relatively new sport was often seen as just a fad among many, but others were absolutely in love with it.
Even though, in actuality, this one was not the first-ever ping pong championship, a couple of tournaments were held a few months before it. Still, it was indeed the first-ever major table tennis tournament to be held anywhere. This is why the London Table Tennis Championship of 1901 is regarded as the first Table Tennis Championship.
The event at the Royal Aquarium was organized by Major Ritchie, who was an accomplished tennis player. Major Ritchie had even won the Wimbledon doubles title twice in his tennis career and the 1908 singles gold medal. Some reports claim that at least 200 men had registered themselves to compete in the event, along with 48 women contestants.
Table Tennis Olympics History – The Royal Aquarium
The event started on December 11 on a Wednesday. The games began around 3 in the afternoon with the women’s competition, and a men’s competition took off around 7 in the evening. The two genders were divided into sections, with 24 sections for men and 8 for women; these sections were contested for the event’s first three days.
The last day concluded both men’s and women’s tournaments. According to the sources, the final two contestants from the women’s division were thrilling ones. The match was between Vivian Eames from Stratham and Maud Thomas, an accomplished tennis player in the 1890s. The match was played under the rules of best of three with 20 points to each.
After both had won 1 game, each the final game was down to 19-19 and had drawn. The Daily Graphics report stated that it was decided not to let one side win with a one-point margin, and the two players went on to play another five-point game. The game was won by Earns when she managed to score 3 points out of five and won the title.
Table Tennis Olympics History – China Domination
The flashier Baker won the first match with 30-22 points. In the second match, ailing bought back and won the match with his stonewall technique that wore Baker down; Ayling went on to win the match with 30-22 points. Later in the next game, Ayling used a vellum paddle with a relatively long handle to win the championship with 30-26 points.
The media also reported that. The Daily Graphic reported that one of the last matches that the reporter had seen had lasted for an astonishing 162 shots! One of the contestants had worn a white Flanner that, according to some competitors, made seeing the ball more difficult. Winners of each section won a medal and four prize awards. And each men’s and women’s champion won a challenge cup.
The organizer of the first table tennis championship, Major Ritchie, had stated that/”the very first lady who sent her entry was declared by her father to be champion, and one impossible to beat. Since then, we have received entries from many invincible ladies.”
The weeks and months that came after the first championship saw many other table tennis championships organized in London. The name R.D. Ayling was heard among the winners again because he had won the All-England Championships in December.
After The First Table Tennis Championship
There was sudden divination in the table tennis communities in England as two different governing committees were formed in December 1901. The first committee to be formed was the Table Tennis Association. Not too long after that, the Ping Pong Association was formed.
The two groups then later merged into each other in 1903. This association only lasted until 1904, when the table tennis craze declined.
Since then, the craze has slowing down, but the game continued to mature from the late 1900s up until World War 1. ITTF was formed in 1926, and the first world championship was held later in the same year.
After ten decades after its inception in the 1880s, the sport finally found its place in the Olympics in 1988.
London’s Royal Aquarium building was demolished only a couple of years after. The Methodist Central Hall was built on top of it in 1911.
Table Tennis Olympics History in Asia
Asian table tennis culture became crucial for the game to remain an international phenomenon. Table tennis became a big name in the Asian sports scene around the 1950s. The Japanese were the first Asians to excel at the sport and the first Asian country to win the world table tennis team championships in 1954 and 1959.
Japan is home to some of the best world champions in the history of table tennis, including the likes of Hiroji Sato. They distinguished themselves with their awe-inspiring performance in the 1959 World Championship.
The Chinese arrived in the global table tennis scene around the 1960s. The Chinese era in table tennis was sparked by Zhuang Zedong’s triple world championship titles in 1961, 1963, and 1965. During this time, ping-pong diplomacy became a thing. The ping-pong diplomacy movement played a crucial role in China-America relations.
In 1977, the world ping pong championship in Birmingham marked the first Chinese service in the game. As Asian countries became more and more invested in the game, the service became a strategic element of the game from being a mere service.
Table Tennis 2020 Tokyo Olympics
The Table Tennis Olympics 2020 is a notable event in the table tennis Olympics history. This session of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has brought fourteen days of exciting table tennis action at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The spectators present at the events were left spellbound by the sheer athleticism of the players.
The entire event was filled with historical incidents and memorable moments. Hend Zaza made her debut as the youngest Olympian. Japan created history in the mixed doubles tournament.
Germany asserted its dominance, became the new European superpower, and challenged the decade-long Chinese reign in the table tennis Olympics. This Olympics has shed some spotlight on table tennis’s wonders and captured the imaginations of a whole new generation.
Hend Zaza from Syria did not just become the youngest table tennis player in this Olympics; she became the youngest Olympian in any sport since 1968, at only 12 years old. The only Olympian to be younger than Hend Zaza was the 11-year-old Beatrice Hustu, who competed in figure skating.
Even though Zaza had to face defeat with 4-0 points to the Austrian veteran table tennis player Liu Jia’s 24 minutes of the game, keeping her head high, Zaza stated that she would return to the Olympics and lift her country’s flag high.
The next phase of the games saw a few more milestones being passed as Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito beat Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen and won the gold medal on behalf of Japan in the opening mixed doubles event. This victory was significant. This was the first-ever incident of a host country winning gold medals across all tables since the Seoul Olympics back in 1988.
Mixed Doubles Table Tennis Olympics History
Since 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, it has only been that table tennis has been a part of the Olympic Games program. It was not until 1992 that mixed doubles were added to the program. Changing the game format of table tennis in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
From 1988 to 2008, only singles and doubles events were held for men and women. Only in 2012 did table tennis have a team event at the Olympics and mixed doubles for both men’s and women’s teams.
The Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun Ju and Cheng I-ching team won the mixed doubles bronze medal. The third place belonged to France’s Emmanuel Lebesson and Yuan Jia Nan. The 2020 Summer Olympics table tennis event became a spectacle to be witnessed, with all the ups, downs, joys, and sorrows all packed into one event.
Omar Assar from Egypt faced off against Sweden’s Mattias Falck and upset him with Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan in the 16th round of the men’s singles event. Omar Assar became the first athlete from a Middle Eastern country that reach the men’s singles quarter-final. He would face defeat against China’s Ma Long.
While the Egyptians rejoiced, the opposite happened for Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto. Harimoto was left astonished when he faced a round of 16 defeat against Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic. Jorgic, seeded 18th, made a spectacle of the rankings and bashed the third-seeded Japanese player’s dreams of holding the gold medal on home soil.
Road To Tokyo – Tomokazu Harimoto – From Young Talent to Leading Man
Another historic moment comes from none other than the Chinese legend Ma Long as he obliterated his teammate, Fan Zhendong, in the great final of the men’s singles match. He has made history by becoming another three-time world table tennis champion. Ma Long from China became the first to defend the title.
This one victory of Ma over Fan made Ma the greatest current table tennis player. However, the 2021 World Table Tennis Championship that took place in Houston updates Fan Zhendong as the winner of the Men’s singles title once again.
Looking Back at The Table Tennis Olympics History Medals
The highest number of Table Tennis Olympic medals has been in China since the 1988 Summer Olympics. The athlete medal leader scorecard is dominated by the golden stars on the red canton flag of China. Also, only once was the golden Nordic cross on the field of Sweden’s flag’s light blue and the black-red-golden tricolor of that of the Germans and twice the whites of Japan’s and South Korea’s.
The Chinese men’s team was the top seed, and they extended their 100 percent winning record by defeating the second seed in Germany. As China gained more and more achievements, Ma has also become the most decorated table tennis athlete in the sport’s history, with five gold medals.
But who has won the highest number of medals at the Table Tennis Olympics?
Looking at the list of the Olympics medalists in table tennis, you can see that Wang Hao, Ma Long, and Wang Nan – all three draw as the winner of the highest number of Table Tennis Olympics medals in history.
All three of them won five total medals at the Olympics. But Wang Hao won two golds and three silvers. Whereas Ma Long won five gold medals; perhaps that is why Wikipedia regards Ma Long as the table tennis medal leader at the Olympics.
If that is the case, then Wang Nan must be the second Olympic medal leader in table tennis Olympic history as she won four golds and one silver. All three of them were preceded by Zhang Jike. He is the winner of four Olympic medals (three golds and one silver), followed by Ma Lin. He won three gold medals at the Olympics.
Dimitrij Ovtcharov from Germany also had moments in the spotlight when he defeated Lin in a seven-game thriller and won the singles bronze medal. This was not Ovtcharov’s first Olympic medal. A second one after the 32-year-old had won a bronze medal in 2012. The 32-year-old had then contemplated retirement after he lost his match against Ma.
Hong Kong also had a star of its own in the 2020 session of the Summer Olympics. Her name is Soo Wai Yam. Soo Wai has shown her incredible spirit and talent throughout the tournament. She had managed to win the bronze medal for the women’s team.
This was her first Olympic medal since the 2004 Table Tennis Olympics. Their team had managed to pull off a great upset against the German team, seeded to be third.
Chinese women’s team table tennis
The Chinese women’s team repeatedly proved why they are the best in the world when it comes to table tennis. They beat the impressive and dominating Japanese team of Ito Kasumi Ishikawa and Miu Hirano. The Chinese team was unstoppable in their match. Also, rightfully earned their women’s team gold medal for the fourth time.
The team maintained their unbelievable record of never losing a single team match ever in the Olympics. Even though she lost, Ito earned more respect and accolades than most players. That was because she became the first-ever table tennis athlete to win all three medals. The gold, silver, and bronze.
Table Tennis Olympics History – The Final Thoughts
That said, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a spectacle to witness in the Table Tennis Olympics history. The event consisted of talented individuals with incredible athletic abilities.
Some may have won, and some may have lost, but when judging by skill, grit, determination, and passion. Each of these fantastic athletes consistently outdoes the others. The only thing left to do now is wait for the next season of the Summer Olympics.
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