London 2012 (08.06.2012) – A Ping Pong Morning

The entrance to ExCel, home to many Olympic Sports, including wrestling,judo, boxing, fencing and table tennis.

Last night, I wrote about the tedious process of being able to buy tickets. And after spending hours pressing the refresh button, I finally found and bought tickets to something.

So this morning, I attended the semifinals of the women’s team event of Table Tennis at ExCel. Now I’ve been to plenty of sporting events in the past, including a squash tournament at Grand Central Terminal, a collegiate rowing regatta on Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, and cross-country skiing on the streets of Dusseldorf, Germany. I’m not sure if I would have gone to a Table Tennis event if it wasn’t the Olympics, especially at a ticket price of £35.

But I was happy to attend a full-session of an event and also venture out of Olympic Park. And I’m sure it will be different than my first Olympic experience watching women’s basketball last week.

I had work at noon and the session started at 10am, so I was definitely not going to be at the IBC on time. I asked my supervisors last night if it was okay that I would be late and they were thrilled that I was going to attend an event. I guess they still felt bad that I hadn’t been to a venue yet.

I wanted to get to ExCel early so that I can explore the venue and take in the experience. Since I wasn’t going to the IBC or had a credential to enter ExCel, I had to take public transportation to get to the venue.  After almost an hour on the Tube and the DLR, which was easy to navigate thanks to the pink signs that Transport for London have put up around the city, I arrived at ExCel.

Anticipating long lines and a lot of visitors, it’s quite a walk from the DLR station to the entrance. And like every other Olympic venue, there’s airport style security. I had my ticket in one hand, but I was also wearing my credential that gets me into the IBC because I didn’t want to risk losing it if it wasn’t worn around my neck. That confused some of the volunteers and security guards because they asked if I was coming as a member of the media and if I had the proper credentials.

I said no, I’m here as a spectator. And I didn’t mind. I was still getting the experience that many back at home weren’t getting. But I will admit that every time I saw a passageway or door that only allowed credentialed media to enter, I glanced with envy.

A Mini-Olympic Park

Entrance to the Table Tennis arena at ExCel.

What I liked about ExCel is how it is home to so many different sports. In one convention hall, you can find boxing and then down the hall is wrestling. And unlike Olympic Park, where getting from one venue to another takes 15-20 minutes, spectators are minutes away. If only the Olympics offered an ExCel day pass (the Paralympics will have such tickets available).

The table tennis venue is the first hall on the left when you enter ExCel. Inside, you’ll find a big and relatively wide area with concession stands, merchandise stands and little exhibits that tell the history of table tennis at the Olympics. It’s definitely a sport that grabs the attention of viewers solely for its novelty and uniqueness.

I highly doubt most spectators are avid table tennis players themselves. Most ping pong tables in the United States are used to play another type of pong that is popular among college students. But I was intrigued about seeing the top players in the sport.

The team format is relatively new and premiered during the Beijing Olympics four years ago. If you’re familiar with the Davis or Fed Cup competitions in regular tennis, the team format is similar. Countries put out a team of about 3-4 members and participate in a best-of-five series, which includes at least two singles matches and one doubles match. Matches four and five are reverse singles matches and played if necessary.

Since we get at least three matches played, only one semifinal is being contested during this session. Each match is a best of five games. The player who gets to 11 points first, leading by at least two points, wins the game. If a player does not have a two-point cushion but reaches 11 points, the match continues until someone does lead by two.

China vs. South Korea

If there’s one thing to know about Table Tennis, it’s that China is really, really good at it. China won in both the men’s and women’s singles events and are on track to sweep the team events as well.

I get to my seat and you can tell that each arena is a room of a convention hall that has been turned into a mini-stadium. The seats are temporary and right in the middle is a single table. Trust me, you get a better view of the action on television.

The actual table, far away from the spectators in the stands.

I look around and I still see some empty seats. If there’s such a battle for tickets, I was wondering why the stands weren’t filled. Either buyers didn’t want to go see table tennis, or they were late, or they were late because they didn’t want to go see table tennis.

Not a surprise that there were many Asian fans around, but there were also many local Brits who came with their families and had bought tickets months in advance.

As far as the match itself, it really was no contest. The first match easily went to China. In the second singles match, there was much more of a battle as the South Korean competitor played very defensively, standing feet away from the table and still able to make returns. That led to many long rallies, much to the delight of the crowd.

Unfortunately, the second singles match also went to China and South Korea couldn’t extend the match, losing in doubles as well. Here was match point:

China. Really good at table tennis.

Elsewhere on Day 10…

While I’ll remember Day 10 for my morning watching table tennis, for many Americans, this day will be remembered by the epic performance staged by the Women’s Soccer team against Canada at Old Trafford. It was a back and forth game, with the U.S. not taking the lead until the last minute.

We were watching the game at SportsDesk and one of the production associates was live-logging the game. The problem was that the feed she was watching was the one airing on NBC Sports Network, which was seven seconds behind the world feed that everyone else was watching. So for awhile, I’d know that a goal was scored before she did. It was beneficial in some ways. When a goal was scored, I’d say aloud, “Take a look!” It gave everyone advance warning that something big was coming.

But by the later stages of the game, it was rather disadvantageous to be watching the network feed than the world feed. Eventually, everyone tuned into the world feed so that we could all be on the same page. And what an ending it was.

The game brought back memories of watching Team USA last summer in the World Cup. I was a photographer and covering a game on Roosevelt Island in NYC, but following the updates on Twitter of the USA vs. Brazil game where the Americans staged an epic comeback. I was glad to at least be watching the game live on TV this time.

And here’s the look-back that one of the Olympic O-Zone editors put together, thanks in part to the live-log that the PA did of the game.

Other news:

– While the soccer match was happening, we also kept an eye on what was going on at Olympic Stadium. In fact, when one of the goals was scored, I had the audio up for the men’s 400m final, so I had to quickly lower Tom Hammond’s voice and bring up the sound from Manchester to quickly alert people what had happened. It’s what I love about the Olympics–things happening at the same time. I got the audio back up for the final which featured Kirani James of Grenada, winning the country’s first ever Olympic medal.

We had a live shot up from Grenada House and if you were watching NBC’s Primetime Coverage of Day 10, you knew how crazy fans got there.

– Team GB’s Beth Tweddle won her first Olympic medal in uneven bars. This is her third Olympics and her bronze  medal is the first ever won by a British female gymnast. And in the men’s rings final, Brazil found the star that will be the face for the upcoming Rio Olympics in 2016 as Arthur Nabrrette Zanetti upset the defending Olympic champion from China, Chen Yibing, to win gold.

– And finally, here’s another one of my favorite stories that I had the pleasure of logging and learning about. Michelle Tafoya talks with a few Brits and Americans in London on some of the differences between British and American languages. You’d think they both speak English, right? Just wait til you hear what the British term is for a USB drive.

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