Geek of the Week

Don’t Call it Pingpong

Peter Sahaidachny, Executive MBA ’20, makes lightning look slow.

What makes you a geek?
I play club-level table tennis.

How long have you been playing?
Since 1990. I started playing in my grandfather’s garage. I remember when I finally beat my dad in a match; he was so competitive. Right now I’m ranked number 1,185 in the country. You can look it up. 

So you’re famous?
Not at all. Not even my kids think I’m famous. But if I was ranked 1,185 in China I might be borderline semi-famous. In China, table tennis players are just as well-known as basketball players are here in the U.S. 

Why do you think that is?
In the 1950s Chairman Mao declared table tennis the national sport. It’s a good sport to play when you’ve got a lot of people in limited space. Today, 10 million people in China play competitively, and the top players train for seven hours a day. People think that table tennis is more of an arm sport, but it’s not. It’s more of a leg sport. You need agility, stamina, balance, fine motor skills, and of course you need to be quick. When I play, I’m drenched within ten minutes. 

Where do you play?
At a club in Novato, every Tuesday night. I play against other ranked or formerly ranked players. I use a paddle, which we call a “blade” but is officially called a “bat,” custom-made for me by a guy in Vallejo named Charlie. He makes each one by hand and he tunes the wood to give you a particular rebound that’s good for your game. My paddle is an E-flat. Charlie can tap a paddle with his fingers and tell you which note it plays. 

How can table tennis change the world?
It already has. Back in 1971, the U.S. team was invited to the People’s Republic of China to play friendly exhibition matches. They paved the way for President Richard Nixon to visit China in 1972. It was a diplomatic breakthrough. I think the world needs a new wave of table-tennis diplomacy. Sign me up.

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