It wasn’t on a par with the famous pingpong diplomacy that opened doors between the United States and China in 1971, but the game melted the ice for Lincoln High School students on their first day in Hong Kong.
After watching accomplished table tennis players from the Hong Kong Sports Institute, including an Olympian, demonstrate their skills Saturday, many of the 94 students were invited to give it a try alongside the institute’s players.
Their balls didn’t bounce the same way, but they had fun trying, drawing cheers and laughter from their fellow students. And when the Olympian, Ho Kwan Kit, put his hand on the hands of several girls to help guide their paddles, the students erupted with a teasing “Oooooh!”
“It’s pretty nerve-wracking,” said Victoria Nuon about playing with the Olympian, Ho Kwan Kit. “I’m not going to lie. When he was helping me, my lip started to shrivel up. I was super nervous, but it was really, really fun.”
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Alicia Dorman rushed to Ho when it was her turn to play, but Chessie Briggs won the initial battle for Ho’s attention. Later Dorman got her chance to play with him.
“It was pretty strange at first, because when you think of an Olympian, whoa, like No. 1 players in the world, and then you think of yourself,” said Dorman, who plays only occasionally.
Jackie Knight also got some help. “It was really fun, especially because I had never played before,” the senior said.
Did the tutelage help?
“Yes, I know what to do,” said Nuon. “In every sport, you always need rhythm, and that’s how you get better at something.
“You hold it like this,” she said, showing an extended index finger to place on the paddle. “And you have to stay relaxed. All you do is move like this,” Nuon said as she waved a stiff hand back and forth. “You don’t do anything with your wrist.”
Ho, who is one of 500 elite athletes who train at the institute in 17 sports, reached the quarterfinals in doubles last summer in Rio de Janeiro, losing to Japan.
In addition to the elite athletes, the institute trains athletes as young as 9 who have been recommended by their coaches as having potential to become good in their sport.
Jonathan Nesvig, a former News Tribune reporter and copy editor, is traveling with the Lincoln High School students while they are in China. He will share updates throughout the trip.