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Table tennis might not receive the Olympic glory of swimming or gymnastics, but make no mistake: Training is tough. You have to be prepared when a white plastic ball is flying toward your head at 100 mph.
Diana Gee of Cary knows what it takes to be competitive in the sport. She represented the USA in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic games as a member of the table tennis team. Now she wants to teach local residents how to play.
Gee is hosting a table tennis clinic on Saturday at the Bond Park Community Center in Cary.
If you go
The North American Championships for table tennis will be Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 at the Bond Park Community Center, 150 Metro Park Drive, Cary. Tickets, which cost $5 per day or $10 for a three-day pass, will be sold at the door.
A table tennis clinic will be offered at the community center from 9 to 10 a.m. and from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1. The cost is $20, and participants must bring their own racket. To register, visit any town of Cary community center or call 919-462-3970.
“I guess the whole idea is to bring awareness to the sport,” said Gee, 43, who moved to Cary two years ago.
Cary has become a sort of unlikely hub for table tennis, which enjoys widespread popularity in Asian countries but hasn’t made it big in America. Earlier this year, the town hosted the Olympic Trials for the U.S. table tennis team. And the annual Cary Cup has become one of the largest round-robin table tennis events in the country.
This weekend, another big table tennis extravaganza is coming to town – the North American Championships, which is expected to feature dozens of top-notch players.
Gee’s instructional clinic will be part of the events, giving table tennis spectators a chance to become players.
There is already plenty of local interest in the sport. The Cary Table Tennis Association, which partners with the town to host open-play matches three times a week, features hundreds of players, said club founder Mike Babuin, 54.
The diverse population of western Wake County has helped fuel the group, said Babuin, who started playing table tennis in the 1970s in Raleigh.
Americans might be slow to take to the sport, Babuin said, but soccer wasn’t always popular here, either.
“Now you have soccer moms everywhere, and it has sort of proliferated,” he said.
Not ping pong
Gee said she hopes to erase some misperceptions about table tennis – it’s not ping pong, she’s quick to point out. Or beer pong, for that matter.
Players use paddles to serve and receive a small ball, using a 9-foot-long table to bounce fancy spins.
“I guess it’s just like any sport – it’s very psychological,” Gee said. “It’s like chess. There’s strategy involved.”
Gee and her twin sister, Lisa, began playing table tennis when they were 7 and living in California. At 15, they moved to the U.S. Olympic Complex training center in Colorado. They practiced for hours a day, ran to build up stamina and lifted weights to strengthen their forearms.
Gee was good enough to make the Olympic team twice, but she didn’t win any medals.
She isn’t nearly as serious about the sport these days. She works as a project specialist and has a 7-year-old son, who for now is interested in tee ball. But Gee is going to compete this weekend, “just for fun.” She figured she couldn’t pass up a tournament that is practically in her backyard.
Some players from this year’s Olympic team will also be in Cary this weekend, said Dwayne Jones, recreation manager for the town of Cary.
Maybe the event will generate more local players, Jones said. Maybe Cary even has some future table tennis Olympians.
“From a national perspective, we don’t do that (sport) well,” Jones said.
But that could change.