March 28, 2011


It's springtime, birds are singing, children are playing, the grass is growing . . . so why is it frickin' 27 degrees outside? Good thing table tennis is an indoor sport.

Injury roll call

After I won hardbat singles at the Cary Cup, I was hobbling about with various injuries in both knees, right leg, right shoulder, and upper back. Now, ten days later, four out of five of these problems have mostly gone away. The remaining nefarious injury that won't go away? My upper back is still a mess. I had to stop early on Friday at the club, where I was a practice partner for our elite junior program. On Saturday and Sunday, I coached and practiced with the juniors, but only with the beginning ones - I could barely move and so couldn't really play high level with the advanced ones. I'm off for a few days, then I coach Thur-Fri-Sat-Sun-Mon, so I better get better quick. Maybe I should lunch on Advil.

Youngest players to break 2500

At the ICC California State Open on March 19-20, 14-year-old Lily Zhang became the youngest player in U.S. history to break 2500, with a new rating of 2523. When the new rating came out, most of us were pretty sure that she was the only 14-year-old ever to break 2500. Was she? Immediately my detective instincts went to work.

One thing to take into consideration is that the ratings have inflated. For example, when Eric Boggan won the USA Nationals in 1978 at age 15, he came out with a rating of just 2448, which made him #2 in the U.S. after Dan Seemiller (2601), with Rick Seemiller (2447) the only other player over 2400. For perspective, in the current USATT Magazine, the #50 player in the Men's rankings is 2462. While techniques, training, and equipment have advanced, that's independent of actual ratings - if these were still at exactly the same level as in 1978, the ratings would still have inflated the same way. (Think of it this way: even if you have better techniques and equipment, so does your opponent.)  So there would be very few players who might have broken 2500 at age 14 until recent years. This is a good thing since it's painstaking to look up old ratings in crumbling magazines from long ago - you have to look in all of them to find the highest ratings. But all the ratings are online since 1994, so it's a lot easier now.

Who were the "obvious" candidates as possible 2500 players at age 14? Historically, the best juniors have matched their age, i.e. broke 2000 at age 10, 2100 at 11, 2200 at 12, 2300 at 13, and 2400 at 14, and 2500 at age 15. Han Xiao was the first to break 2400 at age 13. I checked on him and a few other obvious ones to see when they broke 2500.

Players like Eric Boggan and Rutledge Barry were challenging and beating many of the best U.S. players by age 14 but neither came close to 2500, or even 2400 at 14. Sean O'Neill reached 2500 at age 15 in 1982 - he matched his age every year from age 11 to 15. From way back then, I don't think anyone else really came close to breaking 2500 at age 14. At first I didn't think since had broken 2500 as a 14-year-old other than Lily. And then I hit paydirt.

Adam Hugh reached 2510 on Dec. 8, 2002. He was born on Jan. 5, 1988. So he was 14 years 11 months old when he broke 2500. So Lily is not alone. However, Lily was born in June, 1996, and so was 14 years 9 months old when she broke 2500. So I believe she is the youngest ever to break 2500. And it's also interesting that the youngest to break 2500 is a girl. Go girls' lib!

Others who reached 2500 at a young age since 1994:

  • Han Xiao was born on Dec. 19, 1986, and reached 2501 in May of 2002. So he was 15 years 5 months at the time.
  • Keith Alban was born in Dec. 1983, and reached 2537 in July, 1999, at age 15 years 7 months.
  • Mark Hazinski was born on April 20, 1985, and broke 2500 in February, 2001. (He actually went straight from 2412 to 2652.) So he was 15 years 10 months old at the time. He's the youngest to reach 2550, 2600, and 2650, so Lily now has another target!
  • Justen Yao was born on Jan. 29, 1993, and reached 2536 in Nov. 2008. So he was 15 years 10 months when he reached 2500.
  • Jeff Huang was born in Oct., 1991, and reached 2585 in April, 2008. So he was 16 years 6 months when he reached 2500.
  • Sunny Li was born in July, 1982, and reached 2536 in Nov., 1999, at age 17 years 4 months
  • Another interesting one - Judy Hugh, Adam's sister, reached 2418 at age 14.

Did I miss anyone? I'm debating whether to go through old magazines to find the actual ages for those who reached 2500 at a young age, such as Eric Boggan, Sean O'Neill, Scott & Jim Butler, Dhiren Narotam, and Chi-Sun Chui.


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Interesting.  So that sets the bar for the youngest age to first reach 2500, what about the oldest?  What is the age of the oldest player on the day they first broke 2500?  I bet it's not more than 25.  (Filtering out players who don't start playing in the US until later in their lives, like Lupi, Gao Jun, etc.)

Hi Dave, I'm sure there are older players who broke 2500 for the first time. I'm fairly certain Barry Dattel went over 2500 a few years before 1994, and he was in his thirties. George Brathwaite's "peak" years were in the late 1970s/early 1980s when he was mostly about 2350. However, I believe he reached 2500 at least once in the late 80's when he was already about 50. I doubt he was really better so much as the ratings had inflated some, and he'd held his level. Others who come to mind are Insook Bhushan and Rey Domingo. Both were in the 2400s for years, held their level, and eventually reached 2500 for at least a short time. Unfortunately, I'd have to go through a lot of old magazines to get their specific ratings before 1994. Dr. De Tran spent about a month over 2500 in 1994, did it again in 2003, and again in 2008 when he was around 40. Ignoring the flukey one in 1994, he was at least 35 or so when he first went over 2500.

I wonder who reached 2500 in the shortest amount of time? By amount of time, I am referring to how long they had been playing rather than how old they are. Michael Landers comes to mind as his first tournament was in 2004 and he made it to 2500 by winning the 2009 U.S. Nationals. So, that is about 5 years. I am happy to see him still holding his own among the elites. I would love to know if there are any others with similar time frame improvements.


P.S. Is he too old to make your list?

Yikes, I left out Michael Landers! He broke 2500 at age 15 years 4 months. I'll add him to my list in my "update" this morning in my blog. As to how fast a player gets to 2500, it's tough to call since we rarely know when they started, just when they played in their first tournament. Landers played his first tournament in December of 1994 (age 10), starting with a rating of 1056, and broke 2500 exactly five years later with a rating of 2523, undoubtedly one of the fastest to achieve this.