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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 April 2004, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
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Table tennis originated in England at the end of the 19th Century as an upper class pastime before slowly spreading around the globe to become the world's largest participation sport.

The first records of the game come from the early 1880s, when British army officers in India and South Africa used lids from cigar boxes as paddles and rounded corks from wine bottles as balls.

It soon found its way back to England where James Gibb, who had returned from the United States with some hollow celluloid balls, began playing indoor tennis at the turn of the century.

The new game adopted a variety of names before "ping pong" - after the sound of the paddle hitting the ball - took hold.

English sporting goods manufacturers J. Jaques & Son Ltd registered the name in 1901, the year before E.C. Goode made the significant advance of covering his bat in rubber to impart spin on the ball.

It was not until 1921 that a Table Tennis Association was founded in England, and the International Table Tennis Federation followed in 1926.

London hosted the first world championship in 1927 and the early years of competitive table tennis were dominated by central European countries.

Hungary's Maria Mednyanszky and Viktor Barna were the stars, with seven women's and five men's titles respectively.

A revolution in the sport took place in the 1950s as Asian players began a dominance that continues to this day.

DID YOU KNOW?
China won all four gold medals in Sydney, as well as three silvers and one bronze
Japan's Horoi Satoh introduced a new foam rubber paddle in 1952 allowing even more spin on the ball and Asian players also developed the "penholder" grip, with the paddle held between forefinger and thumb.

While Japan was the most powerful nation in the 1950s and 1960s, other countries such as Hungary and Sweden kept up the challenge while Chinese players arrived on the scene.

Table tennis also made its mark on a far larger stage in 1971 when the term "ping-pong diplomacy" was coined.

The USA team was playing in the world championships in Japan when they received a surprise invitation from the Chinese team to visit the People's Republic.

On 10 April, nine players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, becoming the first group of Americans allowed into China since the communist takeover in 1949.

With an estimated 40 million players worldwide it was no surprise when table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988, with China and South Korea dominating in Seoul.

China continues to lead the way with a total of 26 Olympic medals from four Games and are sure to be the nation to beat in Athens.

MEDAL TABLE (Since 1988)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Men
China 6 3 2 10
South Korea 1 1 5 7
Sweden 1 1 1 3
Germany 0 1 1 2
France 0 1 1 2
Women
China 7 7 2 16
South Korea 1 0 4 5
Chinese Taipei 0 1 1 2
North Korea 0 0 2 2
Yugoslavia 0 0 1 1





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