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What the British Library and Susan Sarandon have in common: ping-pong

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Nathalie Rothschild

(Read caption) A British Library patron trades books for a ping-pong paddle.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It’s the latest celebrity craze – everyone from Susan Sarandon to British pop star Damon Albarn claims to be an aficionado. Table tennis has shed its geeky image to become a new urban trend: No longer confined to stuffy gym halls, it is played in hip clubs on both sides of the Atlantic.

In London, ping-pong mania has hit a peak, with 100 tables popping up in parks, pubs, squares, and even airports as part of this summer’s Ping! festival. Organizers, the English Table Tennis Association (ETTA) and Sing London, hope to spur a table tennis revolution ahead of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Outside the British Library in central London, academics took breaks from exam-cramming and thesis-writing for some friendly sets. Neuroscientist Roland Clarke, who last played ping-pong 20 years ago, thinks having the public tables “encourages active engagement – and it’s bringing strangers together.”

Shaun Marples of ETTA hopes the festival will transform table tennis from a minority sport to a popular hobby. “Ping! will go to four more British cities over the next two years before returning to London,” he explains. It remains to be seen if Britain will turn the tables on China in 2012.


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