U.S. champ Timothy Wang hopes to bring table tennis out of basement
Timothy Wang, 2010 men's table tennis singles champ, turns focus to the Olympics
Table tennis is often played at grassroots level; Wang wants to increase publicity
Wang's family has been a source of inspiration and influence throughout his career
Twenty-year-old Timothy Wang achieved table tennis greatness when he won the U.S. singles title in 2010. The young star, now focused on qualifying for the Olympic Games, recently spoke with SI.com about his past, present and future.
SI.com: You just got back from China as part of the 40-year anniversary of the Ping-Pong Diplomacy relations between the U.S. and China. What was that like?
Timothy Wang: Yeah, we were there for about a week. It was awesome. I got to meet a lot of former world champions from China, and I got to see a lot of the history of the sport and the relations between the U.S. and China. We were in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. We got to see the Olympic stadium in Beijing, the Water Cube, a lot of the universities in Hangzhou, and some high schools in Shanghai.
I played an exhibition match with Wang Liqin [ranked sixth in the world]. It was just exhibition though; we were just trying to make [table tennis] look good, so it wasn't anything too serious. I had seen him before when I played in the World Championships in '09, but I never had the chance to play with him.
SI.com: You and your family finance most of you training. Is that difficult?
Wang: Well I have a sponsor right now -- the ICC. They sponsor my training, buy some of my equipment and pay me a little. When I go out and play in a tournament, I have to cover that on my own.
SI.com: What's an average day for you like?
Wang: I'm training on the table four or five hours a day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I try to go to the gym for an hour, hour and a half, where I do some physical training and do some running. I don't lift a lot of weights, but I mostly focus on cardio and metric training.
Cardio training is definitely one of the most important things in table tennis. Because everything happens so fast, you need to have quick reflexes and sometimes the points go on for a pretty long time, sometimes the points stretch on for what seems like forever. For the most part, I use long distance [running] to build up my endurance. Normally, I also do a lot of sprints and things like that.
SI.com: Will your training increase as the Olympics approach?
Wang: We should probably stay about the same. I might add some more intensity in about two months, depending on how I'm feeling and what my coaches think we should do.
SI.com: How often do you change paddles?
Wang: I usually change about once every six months to a year -- usually the racquets last about a year before you want to change it. The wood gets softer and it's not as powerful when you hit your shot. For me, actually, it doesn't take me too long to adjust [to a new paddle]; it probably takes about two or three weeks for me to adjust to a new one. I actually like to play with new racquets, because they have a much more crisp feeling. I like to play with Butterfly racquets; I've been using them ever since I started out playing.
SI.com: You're so young and have had a pretty decorated career already, but what's something you're most proud of?
Wang: I'm definitely most proud of becoming the U.S. national champion in 2010. It was really my greatest accomplishment to this day. I trained really hard for this one moment, and then to be considered one of the best in the country was really a great honor ... it's one of the greatest things you can do in our sport.
SI.com: How did you feel afterward?
Wang: That first night I couldn't believe it. I had trouble sleeping. But after a while, it's like, it just goes in your pocket. You're like, "Oh, I did it, but, I still have other things I need to keep working."
SI.com: Who's been your biggest influence thus far?
Wang: It's easily been my whole family. They've been supporting me my entire life, sending me to tourneys and all my training; they're always right behind me. Everyone's a little busy right now, but when they have the time they come out and watch me play, and everybody's going to come with me to London. We've always been a really close family
SI.com: You're from the Houston area ... what professional sports teams do you follow?
Wang: Definitely the Houston Rockets, with Yao Ming coming over and stuff. I mean he's not there anymore, but yeah, Rockets, definitely gotta represent.
SI.com: What gets you most excited about going to London?
Wang: Just because it's the Olympics ... anyone who plays a sport, their dream is to play in, to be in the Olympics someday and to be able to compete with the best of the best in the entire world. It's just a dream come true. I've never been to London. I hear it's pretty cool.
SI.com: Ping-Pong is one of the most played sports in the world, yet it doesn't get a lot of attention in the United States. What do you think it will take for the game to become more popular here in the U. S.?
Wang: I think right now the main thing is to just get it more publicity. You never get to see it on TV and nobody talks about it. Everybody plays it but they play it like, in their basement, behind closed doors. I think if more people would come out and compete internationally then it will give it a lot more publicity... If I were to win a bronze silver or gold, I think the whole world would be pretty shocked.