A Tale of Two TT Tournaments
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of attending two very different Table Tennis tournaments.
Malcolm Douglas and I went to the Olympic TT at the Excel Centre. We had bought tickets online in Easter 2011 after a few Ricards in a bar in rural France. The memory is a bit hazy but I think we applied for a whole lot of tickets to different events. Unluckily (or luckily for the bank balance) we were only allocated one pair of tickets – to the Table Tennis on Sunday 5th August. Of course at that stage we didn’t know what we’d be seeing but we knew we’d be going.
The evening before was GB’s finest hour in the athletics stadium with Golds for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession, so the “feel-good” factor was certainly high. Plenty of people were on the train going from Wimbledon to Southfields to see the Tennis final between Andy Murray and some Swiss guy, so it was another big day for GB sport. Changing at Tower Hill, the women’s marathon was going past so there were helicopters buzzing around. The atmosphere everywhere was buzzing too.
Having been warned in advance of strict security and likely delays, we breezed through security very quickly indeed and we add our congratulations to the volunteers and the military for making it such fun.
Inside the Excel, which is vast, the “Spectator Area” for the Table Tennis is a big area with plenty of food, drink and merchandising for sale and plenty of seating to eat, drink and rest. There was also a huge screen showing live the sailing from Weymouth (Ben Ainslie going for gold), but as there was no sound it was impossible to know what was going on. Through to the playing area and we found ourselves side-on to the two tables and about 80 metres from the nearest one. There were big screens overhead, which came in handy for action replays.
And so to the ping pong (or “Whiff Whaff” as Boris Johnson calls it). It was the quarter finals of the men’s team event. The individual golds had already gone (unsurprisingly) to China and the team event looked like going the same way (it did). Teams play two singles, a doubles and two singles (like Davis Cup tennis) and each match is best of 5 sets (unlike the men’s individual which was best of 7).
This afternoon we had Germany v Austria on the table nearest us and Portugal (who’d beaten GB) v Korea on the far table. Which Korea? you ask and to be honest we weren’t quite sure. It was the Democratic Republic or something like that (remember the Judaean People’s Liberation Front from Life Of Brian, anyone?) Anyway, extensive research on returning home revealed that this was South Korea.
The playing area was lit by a Spielberg- type array of a million watts of light and the PA system was manned by a manic idiot who clearly felt that a moment’s silence was the greatest evil. Whenever there was a time-out or other lull in proceedings, the PA either put a record on or exhorted us to “Make some noise for the quarter finalists” or some similar inanity. The announcer also annoyed by stating the obvious, like “If he wins the next game, he’ll have won the match” – really? We didn’t know!
Anyway, we watched with mild interest as Germany despatched Austria 3-0 with Teutonic efficiency in an hour and a half. Not wildly exciting and I thought it would be rather a short day. We had noticed several great rallies from the far table where a real match was developing. After the Germans and the Austrians departed, we concentrated on the other match (about 100 metres away).
Portugal on the attack, South Korea defending and counter attacking. That led to some superb rallies and it became an engrossing contest, especially after Portugal rather unexpectedly won the doubles and a singles, making it 2-2 with one to play.
The Korean team had an amusing habit (also noticed later on TV amongst the Chinese) of clapping their player like performing seals at least 10 seconds after everyone else in the arena had stopped, making me wish I could “throw him a fish”. As the game progressed, the crowd got behind Portugal and the atmosphere was electric. The odd Mexican wave broke out and a good time was being had by all.
Sadly the last game went easily to South Korea and that was it for the day – dead on 6 o’clock (3½ hours of entertainment). News of Andy Murray’s and Ben Ainslie’s victories came through via the various mobile phones and iPads in the crowd,, but rather oddly, nothing was announced or put on the screens. A policy decision, no doubt.
On the train home we heard that Bolt had won the 100 metres. Quite a sporting weekend!
A Smaller Affair
The second tournament was a smaller affair. From a crowd of over 5,000 at the Excel, a crowd of 30-40 watched an interesting event at Bournemouth Sports. A line up of 8 top class young players played a knock-out tournament.
The play was of a very high standard but the organisation wasn’t the best – a PA system would have been good so that we could hear the announcements about the players, etc. I’m told the promised Chinese food arrived after many had gone home but I enjoyed a good evening nonetheless.
It was good to be so close to the action rather than 100 metres away. One coach helpfully explained what had tactically been going on in the previous game, which was very useful (I hadn’t noticed half of it!)
Shaun played an exhibition game with young Jamie from Bournemouth Sports, who was then made to sit on a stack of two chairs for a further game that, not surprisingly, he lost.
All in all a very good evening, a very different experience to the Olympics and who know one day these youngsters will be winning medals in Rio to break the Chinese monopoly of all Olympic gold medals..
By Keith Kensley