Get Involved: TABLE TENNIS

George Clooney, Wayne Rooney and Bill Gates are all devotees of table tennis, a sport enjoying such a boom that Oscar award-winning actress Susan Sarandon has even opened a ping-pong nightclub in New York.

Analysis

Ian Marshall, BBC Sport

"Asian and continental European nations dominate, although Team GB can compete with anyone from outside those areas. Joanna Parker and Paul Drinkhall are the singles entrants for Britain. Joanna is a solid defensive player, Paul has a strong forehand and is an ex-European junior champion. China's Zhang Jike is the reigning men's World Cup winner and world champion, and is looking to add the Olympic title. China sweep the medals, but in tournaments their athletes can crack under pressure."

The sport's appeal is obvious: it's fast, fun and cheap.

At elite level, it's really fast. The ball travels at speeds of 100mph and is struck more than 180 times in a minute - about three shots a second.

The Chinese dominate the global game (they have won all five titles at each of the last four World Championships), and the proliferation of China-born players representing other countries has raised the standard.

There are four table tennis events held at the Olympics: the men's and women's singles, and men's and women's team events, which replaced the doubles at the last Olympics.

Why is it good for you?

As table tennis is an incredibly fast sport, an hour's play can burn approximately 272 calories. Due to its intensity, table tennis improves cardiovascular fitness, endurance levels and the health of an athlete's heart.

London 2012: Table tennis at the Olympics explained (Part one)

One of the main benefits of playing table tennis is that it is non-contact. This means you can get all the positives of a high-energy sport such as football without the risk of collision injuries to the arms, shoulders and legs.

It is also one of the few competitive sports that requires players to move at speed without straining the muscles or joints through stretching or using heavy equipment.

For people returning from injury or the elderly, table tennis tennis can be the perfect sport to sustain fitness levels.

The action of having to hit a fast-moving ball with a bat several times a second means table tennis also improves reflexes, eye-to-hand co-ordination, mental alertness and speed of movement.

Get involved

Table tennis is a cheap and accessible sport played by 2.4m people in the United Kingdom. For people of all ages and abilities, table tennis clubs provide the best place to learn and play the sport.

There are currently more than 750 clubs in gyms, leisure centres, schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK. To find your nearest club, visit the English Table Tennis Association,  Irish Table Tennis,  Table Tennis Association of Wales  or Table Tennis Scotland  websites.

Table tennis equipment, such as bats and ping-pong balls, can be relatively inexpensive to buy, with some leisure centres and clubs also offering a rental service.

Hourly rates for hiring a court often begin at approximately £5 per session, although membership deals can create a lower cost per game.

In England, Ping!  is an innovative three year street ping pong project which provides people with opportunities to play social and competitive table tennis, free of charge.

Permanent outdoors free-to-use table tennis tables  have also been installed in parks in places such as London, Birmingham, Bristol and Hull.

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In?

'Join In Local Sport'  aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event  near you.

The competition format at London 2012

Can you compete?

Michael Johnson

Get your performance under pressure analysed in just 20 minutes by four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson

  • From Saturday 28 July to Wednesday 8 August, 172 athletes (86 men, 86 women) will compete at the ExCeL Arena.
  • There are singles and team events at London 2012, all using a knockout format through to medal matches.
  • A seeding system dictates when athletes enter competition. The top 16 in the International Table Tennis Federation rankings enter in the third round, the top 17-32 in the second round, with all others qualifying for the first or preliminary round.
  • The winners of the semi-finals play for the gold medal, and the losers of the semi-finals compete for the bronze medal.
  • Singles matches are played over the best of seven sets.
  • In the team event, three athletes contest between them two singles matches, followed by a doubles match, with each played over the best of five games. Two further singles matches can then be played until one team has an unassailable lead.

More on the London 2012 website 

The rules at London 2012

A point is scored in a variety of ways, including when a player allows the ball to bounce twice on their side of the table, hits the ball into the net and outside the boundaries of the table without bouncing.

Great Olympic moment

Jan-Ove Waldner

Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner dropped just one game in seven matches when winning the 1992 men's singles gold - living up to his nickname of the 'Mozart of Table Tennis'

The first player or pair scoring 11 points (by a margin of two clear points) wins the game.

If the scores are tied at 10-10 then it is the player or the pair that gains a lead of two points first who wins the game.

The expedite system can be introduced if a set has not finished after 10 minutes. Under the expedite system, each player makes a service and if the receiving player or pair makes 13 good returns, the receiver shall score a point.

The service is changed after every two points. Once the score gets to 10-10, the serve changes after every point.

In doubles matches, the serve alternates between players as well as teams. Players also take turns to hit the ball, with one hit allowed per player before it alternates.

More on the Team GB website 

Ones to watch

London major Boris Johnson proudly declared after Beijing that "whiff-whaff is coming home". However, the medals will not be following.

Paul Drinkhall plays in the men's singles, Joanna Parker in the women's, and both will find the going tough. The teams are also unlikely to go far.

Gold should be all about the Chinese. Wang Hao and world champion Zhang Jike should contest the men's final, while Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia are the two top women.

China also look unbeatable in the team competitions. Germany are the best European outfit and will be looking for medals from the men's team and Timo Boll.

History

In the late 19th century table tennis was a sedate after-dinner pastime among the high society in England and British army officers abroad, with cigar-box lids used as rackets and a carved champagne cork for a ball.

Did you know?

China has won 20 of the 24 available gold medals since table tennis became an Olympic sport

Early names for the sport included gossima, whiff-whaff and ping pong.

The first World Championships were held in London in 1926, but it did not become an Olympic sport until 1988 in Seoul.

It is estimated there are 40 million competitive table tennis players and countless millions playing recreationally, making it the sport with the most participants worldwide.

More on the IOC website