Olympics

August 03, 2012

Southern Open and Junior Olympics

I'm back!!! I've been away for a week coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics in Houston. Both were held in the same huge hall at George R. Brown Convention Center, with the Southern Open on Saturday and Sunday, the Junior Olympics Mon-Wed. While I coached a number of Maryland players, I was there mostly to coach John and Nathan Hsu.

Here are complete results for the Southern Open (release on "Southern Open" in the drop box). I coached Nathan Hsu and Yahao Zhang as they pulled off several upsets to win Open Doubles, defeating the U.S. Open Over 40 Doubles Champions Viktor Subonj and Niraj Oak in the final. The standout tactic was how effective they were serving simple no-spin serves disguised as backspin. (This is a standard tactics in singles and especially doubles.) Tactically, Nathan played mostly control while Yahao put the ball away, though Nathan ripped a lot of backhand loops as well. Topping that off Nathan's brother John and father Hans won Under 3600 Doubles over a rather large field. 

Jim Butler dominated to win Open Singles as he continues his comeback from nearly a decade off. Now 41 and a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, he's in the mix as a contender to win Men's Singles at this year's USA Nationals, with his dominant serves and backhand.

In the Junior Olympics, the best match of the tournament might have been Nathan Hsu versus Andrew Chen in the final of Division A. (On the first day players are put in divisions based on rating, so it's essentially rating events, with Division A essentially Open Singles for all players. On the second day they get into age specific events.) Both played looping forehands, but on the backhand it was a contrast in styles, with Nathan all-out looping everything against Andrew's blocking and hitting pips-out backhand. Nathan won the first two. Down 2-10 in the third, he scored five in a row, forcing Andrew to take his timeout. In the fourth, Nathan was up match point, and he led 9-8 in the fifth before Andrew finally won.

We weren't the only events held in the huge hall. We also shared it with sports stacking, wrestling, weight lifting, and Tae Kwon Do. The sports stacking, where they rapid-fire stack and unstuck cups, was especially fun to watch. Here's a video.

I managed to convince at least two kids that they used to have younger events at the Junior Olympics, and that I was once the U.S. Boys' Under 2 Gold Medalist. I also explained to a set of parents after their son won a game that without my coaching the opponent would have scored twice as many points. Their son had just won 11-1. (And on the way home I introduced our players to "Airport Ping-Pong" - see segment blow.)

The players in the Junior Olympics were probably 90% Chinese, a huge increase from the last time I went. I started coaching there in the 1980s and went nearly every year until around 2005 or so. It used to be something like 60% Chinese. It's also become more regionalized, as the large majority of players were local Texas juniors. MDTTC used to send 30 or so players every year, but this year we only had nine (including two Virginia players who train at MDTTC). California only had two. Here is the state-by-state breakdown of entries, from an Excel file from a few days before the tournament:

TX: 49
GA: 13
NJ: 8
MD: 7
NY: 6
VA: 2
CA: 2
AL: 1
FL: 1
MA: 1
MO: 1
PA: 1
WA: 1
TOTAL: 93

I was quite happy with the running and officiating at the tournament. They even did something that often doesn't happen - they enforced the hidden serve rule. Twice I asked referee Scott Ryan to watch the serve of a player, and each time he agreed the serve was hidden, and sent out an umpire (I believe Ken Potts in both cases) who called the serve. In both cases the player didn't complain, and simply began to serve legally.

On Monday night someone broke into Director John Miller's car and stole his computer, printouts, his glasses, and lots of other stuff. This could have created havoc, but John stayed up all night with a borrowed computer and recreated the entire tournament from scratch. Though he had to squint all day at the computer screen (often staring from a few inches away), he managed to keep the tournament running successfully the rest of the way. No results were lost, though he said he'd have a lot of tedious re-entering to do.

Here are complete Results of the 2012 Junior Olympics. (Ignore the links for Saturday and Sunday, which are mistaken repeats of other results and should be taken down soon.) MDTTC won a bunch of medals, even though we only had a small contingent this year. MDTTC winners were:

  • Amy Lu (Gold in Under 12 Girls' Singles and Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lilly Lin (Bronze in Under 16 Girls' Singles, Gold in Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lisa Lin (Bronze in Under 10 Girls' Singles, Silver in Under 10 Girls' Doubles, and Gold in Under 16 Girls' Teams)
  • John Hsu (Silver in Under 22 Men's Singles, Doubles, and Teams)
  • Nathan Hsu (Bronze in Under 18 Boys' Singles, Silver in Under 22 Men's Doubles and Teams, and runner-up in Division A)
  • Jackson Liang (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • George Nie (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • Wesley Duan (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)
  • Kyle Wang (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)

Now the down side.

  • After watching his son miss a shot, a father yelled out to him, "You suck, [son's name]!" I wanted to punch him. It amazes me at how many parents see nothing wrong with berating their kids, even publicly.
  • In the third point of a game an opponent got a clear edge ball to go up 3-0. His father jumped to his feet cheering and clapping non-stop, and went on so long the players had to delay the next point until he stopped.
  • A player entered as an unrated player, using his Chinese name rather than his Americanized one. He had a 2227 rating, but didn't tell anyone. So he was placed in the lowest divisions on the first day of competition, which are essentially rating events. The result? This 2200+ player won the equivalent of Under 800 and Under 1200, and messed up the Under 18 draws, where he should have been seeded. Disciplinary action will likely be taken against him, and he will probably be asked to return the division medals.
  • I've never seen so much "strategic dumping" by junior players. A number of them were told to dump matches so as to get better draw positions or to avoid playing teammates. One 2500 player dumped to a 1900 player, a student of his, to give him a better draw, but was ordered to play the match by the referee or drop out of the event. (They played and he won.) Another player was up 2-1 in games when, after a consultation with his father, he suddenly defaulted, thereby apparently avoiding playing a teammate. (He later claimed he was sick, but then played his other matches. He ended up playing the teammate after all when the 2500 player was forced to play the 1900 player.)
  • And now we get to the biggest problem, one that will leave a bad taste in my mouth for a long time to come. In the small print in the entry form it said that "Non-citizens are welcome to play in the AAU events" (i.e. the Junior Olympics age events), and so, I believe for the first time ever, non-citizens played in the U.S. Junior Olympics. (Yes, this means the Chinese junior champion can take a quick vacation to the U.S. and win the U.S. Junior Olympics.) The result? The older events of the tournament were dominated by Chinese Province players who had been hired to train U.S. players. Worse, there was no way to check the ages. I've been assured for years by just about everyone from China that it is standard to subtract 2-4 years from ages of junior players to better their chances of making teams. And strangely enough, all these Chinese Province players looked much older than their listed ages. (You'd think there'd be at least one that looked young for his "age.")

    And so we had at least two Chinese Province Players, now professional coaches in the U.S., who looked in their mid-twenties, playing in and dominating the U.S. Junior Olympics. Several Chinese told me they knew of the Under 18 Singles, Doubles, and Team winner as a Chinese Province Player they said was 24 years old, but of course there's no way to prove it. (In China I'm told all you do is pay a fee and fill out a form and you can get a birth certificate with whatever age you put down. This is very different from the U.S., where we expect birth certificates to be accurate.) Finally, someone pulled me aside and assured me the player wasn't 24, he was "only 21." And that's who beat Nathan Hsu in the semifinals of Under 18 Singles.

    The tournament referee said he had already contacted the people running the tournament next year to warn them of the problem. I think the only solution is to go back to citizens only in the U.S. Junior Olympics. Who knows, maybe these older-looking Chinese Province Players/Professional Coaches playing in the U.S. Junior Olympics really are the age they say they are, but there's no way of knowing.

Airport Ping-Pong

On the flight back from the Junior Olympics on Wednesday night our flight at Houston International Airport was delayed four hours. So how did we pass the time? Airport Ping-Pong! Here's the video (1:42) of Nathan Hsu, Lilly Lin (righty) and Amy Lu (lefty) hitting on the airport lounge tables, which we positioned about four feet apart. (I'm the ballboy on the left.) We played for over an hour. I hit with Nathan for fifteen minutes at the end (lot of vicious countering, looping, and lobbing), and I might be able to get some footage of that up later.

Olympics

I've been away. Did an Olympics happen? I'm guessing there's been coverage somewhere else.

Baltimore Sun and Gazette Articles

While I was away coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics, the Baltimore Sun and local Gazette Newspapers both ran recent articles on the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here is the Baltimore Sun article that features U.S. Open Boys' 11 & Under Champion Derek Nie, and here is the Gazette article (where it quotes me as saying San Francisco is a hotbed for table tennis, when I said the Bay Area near San Francisco). The print editions also have pictures. The Washington Post also has a feature on us, most likely coming out next week.

Google Table Tennis Logos

Yesterday, for the third time, Google had a table tennis Google Doodle (that's what they call it) as their logo. They did the same thing for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, doing one for each sport. Here are the three table tennis logos:

Forehand Smash

Here's a short video (0:48) from 2011 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Peter Li giving a tip on the forehand smash.

Panda Ping-Pong

Here's a hilarious video (5:03) of the folks at PingSkills training a Panda (someone in a Panda suit) to be an Olympic Table Tennis player.

Non-Table Tennis - Leashing the Muse and The Haunts of Albert Einstein

I just sold another story, this time the fantasy story "Leashing the Muse" to Space and Time Magazine. It's the story of an English professor (modeled on Tim Boggan) who is disgusted with the poor work his students are turning in. And then, due to global warming, the muse Polyhymnia (the muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric, and the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyn) is released from where she had been imprisoned in arctic ice for thousands of years by Zeus for criticizing his poetry. She decides her mission is to turn all written work into masterpieces, whether it be Milton, a newspaper articles, or a how-to manuals. When any three-year-old with a crayon can write masterpieces, nothing stands out anymore, and so there are no more masterpieces. It's up to our English professor to capture the muse and convince her to stop - and it'll take a powerful story-generating computer (fifty billion stories per second) to do so.

World Weaver Press has also announced the table of contents for its new anthology, "Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales," which includes my humorous ghost story "The Haunts of Albert Einstein," which deals with Einstein's problems with bickering physicists and the paparazzi in the afterlife.

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July 10, 2012

Staying Low

This past weekend I watched a 10-year-old I coach in matches at the club. I was grimacing as I watched him stand up nearly straight while receiving and in rallies, leading to awkward shots, especially on the backhand drive and forehand loop. So guess what the focus was in his lesson yesterday? Yes, staying low. For much of the hour I harped on staying down, with knees slightly bent, legs a bit wider. The result? His backhand drive and forehand loop shot up, and he moved much better. Near the end, we played points, and he was able to serve and loop better than he'd ever done before. In rallies, he could cover his backhand and hit real backhands, which had been a serious weakness.

Staying low helps you in multiple ways. First, by bending your knees, it gives you a quicker start. If the knees are straight, then before you can move you have to bend them, which wastes time. Second, it lowers your center of gravity, giving you more leverage in moving quickly. Third, with the legs wider, it allows you to stay balanced even on the move, since it's easier to keep the center of gravity between the legs. Fourth, with the knees bent, it makes it easier to step to the ball rather than lean. And fifth, it gets the coach out of your hair.

Can China Sweep the Olympics (Again)?

Here's an article in the China Daily on their chances, as well as going over their players and the opposition. From a mathematical point of view, if the Chinese have a 84% chance of winning in each of the four events, then their chances of sweeping are (.84)^4=.498, or only about 50%. Even a 90% chance in each event gives them about a 66% of sweeping.

Ariel Hsing versus Uncles Bill and Warren

Here's a video (1:57) by the Wall Street Journal that revisits U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her battles at shareholder meetings with Uncle Bill Gates and Uncle Warren Buffett, as well as against Wall Street Journal Reporter Jared Diamond.

Ping-Pong, Senior Style

Here's a video about a documentary on octogenarian table tennis. It has some nice sequences and interviews. The actual documentary, "Ping Pong: Never Too Old For Gold," is now out in limited release. 

Paralympic Backhand

So you think you have backhand problems?

The Ping Festival in England

The Ping Festival (2:56) features street table tennis, costumes, ducks playing table tennis, big paddles, long-handled paddles, mayors, and things I can't even describe.

Roger Federer vs. Ma Lin

On Sunday, Federer won Wimbledon. Now he's trying to beat the Chinese.

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