When was table tennis introduced to the Olympics

When Was Table Tennis Introduced In The Olympics?

If we went back in time and told David Foster that one of his parlor games would become an Olympic sport 98 years after its creation, there’s no way he would believe us.

Table tennis was created with the intention of being a fun saloon game to pass the time. However, history led it to become an Olympic discipline.

We are going to explore the origins of table tennis and explain how the sport transitioned from a parlor game to an Olympic sport over the years.

The origins of Table Tennis

Table Tennis was presumably created by David Foster in 1890 as one of three parlor games, along with table cricket and table football.

A picture of the David Foster's Games Promo

Other versions of table tennis were made, using cork or rubber balls. None of these variants was successful and table tennis fell into oblivion for a few years.

However, it was the advent of the celluloid ball in the early 1900s that revived what we know today as table tennis.

In the 1920s, table tennis grew in popularity, so much so that in 1926 the ITTF was founded. The first edition of the World Table Tennis Championships was held in that same year and continues to this day.

This was the first major tournament in table tennis, and slowly new tactics, strategies, and rackets began to develop.

A few decades later, it was clear that table tennis was no longer lawn tennis adapted to a table, but rather, a unique and spectacular sport.

First attempts to include Table Tennis in the Olympics

Six years after the creation of the ITTF, in 1932, the International Table Tennis Federation tried to include table tennis as a demonstration sport in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

However, the request was rejected. The ITTF continued with its intention to make table tennis an Olympic sport, but the following two editions, ’40 and ’44, were canceled due to the Second World War.

The ITTF continued its efforts to include table tennis in the Olympic Games, but London, the organizer of the ‘48 Olympic Games, believed that there were too many disciplines and that sports should be subtracted rather than added.

Also, table tennis had the World Table Tennis Championships. In the Olympic Games, priority was given to including disciplines that did not have World Championships.

At the ITTF annual meeting in ’54, the acceptance of table tennis as an Olympic discipline was discussed again.

However, in 1957, it was decided that the time was not right to include table tennis in the Olympic Games and the decision was postponed.

Final attempt to include Table Tennis in the Olympics

In 1967, the last inclusion request was put forward. This proposal would end up being accepted 21 years later.

The French table tennis association pressed the ITTF to get table tennis into the Games, and the ITTF committed to getting more information.

Thus began the last negotiations between the ITTF and the Olympic Committee.

The biggest obstacle that table tennis presented was its constitution since it wasn’t explicit in it that the sport was amateur in any way.

Until the 1980s, the Olympic Committee required all athletes to be amateurs, until more and more cases of “shamateurism” occurred and the Olympic Committee began to accept professional athletes.

However, in the 1970s the Olympic Committee required the ITTF to declare that table tennis had an amateur facet.

By then, the sport had developed enormously, reaching Asian, European, and American countries, and it had already become professional, for example, in China.

The ITTF had already presented their proposal to be included as an Olympic sport, but seeing that it was extremely likely that it would be rejected, they decided to withdraw it.

In 1979, the ITTF changed its constitution in such a way that the Olympic Committee was satisfied and the Committee responded positively, voting for its inclusion in the Games in the year 1981.

Three years later, the Committee contacted the ITTF to include the sport as a demonstration discipline in Los Angeles 1984.

This never ended up happening, as table tennis would be introduced in the following edition, not as a demonstration discipline, but as an official discipline.

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The Introduction of Table Tennis to the Olympics

Finally, and after so many attempts, table tennis was included in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

A picture of the Table Tennis Doubles in the 1988 Seoul Olympics
The 1988 Seoul Olympics

The discipline was officially introduced with 4 events: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, and women’s doubles.

In the first edition, hosted in Seoul, athletes from the host country were extremely successful, winning 2 out of 4 medals.

Yoo Nam Kyu won the men’s singles event and Hyun Jung-Hwa and Yang Young-ja won the women’s doubles event.

A picture of Yoo Nam Kyu
Yoo Nam Kyu, winner of the first men’s singles event

The other two medals were won by China. Chen Jing won the women’s singles event and Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang won the men’s doubles event.

A picture of Chen Jing
Chen Jing, winner of the first women’s singles event

Interestingly, these two events that China won were, to this day, never won by other nations.

In the women’s singles event and men’s doubles, China won 18/18 events. They are still undefeated.

In the rest of the events, they are also tremendously dominant.

They won absolutely every event except the men’s singles in 1988, 1992, and 2004, the women’s doubles in 1988, and the inaugural mixed doubles event in 2020. All other events were won by Chinese athletes.

In 2008, men’s team and women’s team events were added, and in 2020, the mixed doubles event was included to form 7 different events. The inaugural mixed doubles event was won by Japan.

A picture of the Japanese dynamic duo Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani.
The 2020 mixed doubles champions, Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani. Source: Japan Times

To find out more about the next Olympics, check out our guide to table tennis at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

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The Controller
Alvaro Munno - Table Tennis Player & Author

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Butterfly Fan Zhendong ALC | Forehand: Butterfly Dignics 09c | Backhand: Butterfly Rozena
Playstyle: The Controller

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