You don’t have to go to China to find a world where champions are legend, and dreams rise or fall with the bounce of a little ball, from the Washington Post:
THE OPPONENT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE NET, the one talking to his racquet at this moment, is a nobody in the sport, undertrained, lightly regarded, just the kind of foe that prodigy and Olympic hopeful Han Xiao likes least. “There’s nothing to gain and always something to lose for me against that kind of player,” Xiao says. A loss here could be a harbinger of trouble, a worrisome crack in his dream to play in the 2008 Olympics. The last thing this idol of the immigrant community wants to do is let anyone down.
Xiao is the sixth-ranked men’s table tennis player in the United States — at 20, a serious contender to win a place on the U.S. Olympic team. There are no table tennis superstars in America — the best American player is not even in the top 100 in the world rankings — but Xiao (pronounced “Shao”), who is outside the top 500, still is a big enough deal in the American game to warrant free gear — today it’s a pair of black athletic shorts and a natty blue-and-white polo shirt with his sponsor’s logo. [Full Text]