Lin Gaoyuan (1st L, front) of China, Lily Zhang (2nd L, front) of the United States compete with Wang Manyu (2nd R, front) of China and Kanak Jha (1st R, front) of the United States during a joint training session of two pairs formed of both American and Chinese players entering the mixed doubles competition at the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships in Houston, the United States, on November 22 (XINHUA)
The main competition hall of the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships venue became the spotlight on the eve of the event's opening in Houston.
Two pairs of both Chinese and American players conducted a joint training session here on Monday evening, demonstrating how the younger generations carry on the spirit of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" initiated between the two nations half a century ago.
With China's Lin Gaoyuan and America's Lily Zhang at one end and U.S. player Kanak Jha and China's Wang Manyu at another, the little white ball moved in between the pairs.
A rapport was seen in each pair as they exchanged ideas and gestured over tactics, even though it was the first joint practise after the two combinations were announced by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
Lin said he often discussed tactics with Zhang during training in order to better cooperate in the future.
For the newly-formed pairs, each round was an opportunity for understanding and accommodation, said Lin, adding "we will work hard game by game."
For Wang and Jha, the joint practise was also a journey to discover each other.
"It is our first pairing. I have witnessed Jha's strength during the training and look forward to the upcoming games," Wang said.
Said Jha, "Our styles are a little bit different which maybe is good to pair together."
"I think [Wang] has a very strong forehand and backhand flick, and I'm more safe and consistent. So I hope together we can bring out each other's strengths," he added.
The ITTF on Sunday said that Lin, the men's singles fifth seed, will pair with Zhang, while Jha will play with Chinese women's singles fourth seed Wang to compete in the mixed doubles competition at the table tennis worlds in Houston, marking the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.
"It's really incredible feeling to be a part of huge moment in history," said five-time U.S. national champion Zhang, adding that table tennis has helped her know more about Chinese culture.
"I really love the sport. It is able to transcend all boundaries and bring us together," added Zhang.
50 years ago, the U.S. table tennis team was invited by its Chinese counterpart to visit China at the conclusion of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. The U.S. players landed in Beijing on April 10, 1971, becoming the first U.S. group to visit China since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year.
Virginia Sung, Chief Executive Officer of USA Table Tennis, said the past 50 years have witnessed huge progress in people-to-people exchanges in the table tennis community between the United States and China, adding she is excited that the opportunity has materialized for both sides to play a mixed doubles event in Houston.
Liu Guoliang, World Table Tennis Council Chair and president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, said that having Chinese and American players pair up for mixed doubles opens a new chapter of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in this new era.
These athletes, who are friends with each other, can work together in the competition, and in the meantime, fans from both countries can cheer them on, added Liu, who noted that sport has a magic power that transends competition as it can help cultivate friendship.
Judy Hoarfrost, who was on the U.S. team that visited China in 1971, told Xinhua that moves such as joint training and pairing are "a wonderful gesture to have," which shows the table tennis community really cares about "bringing people together through sport."
It is important to realize "what our sport has been able to do with ping-pong diplomacy in 1971," so as to "pass that legacy on to our current players and our future players," she said.
The 2021 World Table Tennis Championships open on November 23. The event, running from November 23 to 29, marks the first time that the sport's prestigious event has been staged in the Americas.