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Bouncing around globe to ping-pong pinnacle

By ZHAO XU in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-20 05:08

Cheng Yinghua (left) and Larry Hodges in Maryland Table Tennic Club. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In 1988, table tennis became an Olympic sport. That year, Cheng was invited by the US Table Tennis Association to join a resident training program and coach some of the country's top players and juniors at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs – his previous performance had clearly been marked down.

"At the time I was the program's manager and coach, and would later become its director. Cheng and I shared one dorm and he discovered early on that I liked kung pao chicken," said Hodges, referring to the spicy dish that ranked among China's most popular exports. "So he made it for us about once a week!"

In the years that followed, Hodges would discover Cheng's other gifts, including in tennis and badminton playing, as well as in Go, a game that originated in China.

Cheng stayed in the US for about a year, coaching and playing. For the next two years, he flew between China and the US, before gaining permanent residency and moving to Maryland with his family in 1991.

In 1992, Cheng, together with Hodges and a number of other friends, opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center, the first successful full-time one in the US. Between coaching sessions, Cheng would bring down the heat in the cool-headed game of Go, which he also taught to interested students.

However, there was still a dream to live and fulfill. In 1995 in Atlanta, Cheng, then 37, and representing the US, beat Waldner in his heyday. The US team won bronze in the World Team Table Tennis Championships, a category under the World Table Tennis Championships that was inaugurated in 1990.

"That was the first time I won a medal at a top-level international table tennis competition," Cheng said.

Twenty-four years later, Cheng's desire to win is acutely shared by Zhang, whose own life story reflects that of his predecessor, in both the distance it has covered and the scale of the ambition.

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