Bay Area’s 16-Year-Old Table Tennis Champions Compete in London 2012

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With the Olympic Games in full swing, the Bay Area has plenty to be proud of.

Representing the Bay’s Asian-American community in the Games are 16-year-old table tennis champions Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang, who earned spots on the Olympic team at Trials, competing against other players in North America.

Ariel Hsing

Table tennis has a relatively small following in the US—most people think of Forrest Gump, not a rigorous Olympic sport. However, table tennis is as fast as fencing, presents as much (if not more) of mental challenge as full-court tennis, and can be played with a range of methods and styles.

It’s no wonder Olympian Ariel Hsing practices 20-30 hours a week, with morning and afternoon practices. She has several coaches, travelling all over the Bay for training. Hsing started playing table tennis at age 7, and she showed promise even then. Her hard work has already paid off, winning numerous titles, including a bronze at the 2011 PanAmerican Games and a US Women’s Championship. Ariel lives in San Jose and will be a senior at Christian Valley High School in the Fall. Her parents both played table tennis, but continue to stress the importance of academics (she hopes to attend Stanford or Harvard).

After her stunning debut – winning her first two Olympic matches, she narrowly lost to China’s Li Xiaoxia, the second-seeded player in the tournament.

Lily Zhang also comes from a table tennis family—her father played for his county’s team in Xi’an Province. Zhang lives in Palo Alto and trains with Ariel at ICC Table Tennis Club, which was founded by table tennis coach Rajul Sheth. Lily Zhang’s first competitive table tennis match was against Ariel Hsing. Since then, Zhang has competed for the 2012 US World Team and, like Hsing, won bronze at the PanAmerican Games in 2011.

Despite being no strangers to world competition, the two Olympians are up against fierce odds if they are going to bring home a medal for the US. China has won 41 of 76 medals since table tennis was added as an Olympic sport in 1988. In the team competition, the US plays Japan in the first round on Aug. 3, which will likely pit Ariel Hsing against Kasumi Ishkawa, the no. 7 ranked player in the world.

Hsing and Zhang’s journeys are also being chronicled for an upcoming feature-length documentary about the world of table tennis called Top Spin, directed by Mina T. Son and Sarah Newens. The film is currently in post-production and slated to be completed in early 2013.

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