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What is Olympic Table Tennis?

The Basics of Olympic Table Tennis


Photograph of Oh Sang Eun

Oh Sang Eun

Photo by Mariann Domonkos, by courtesy of the ITTF
What is Olympic Table Tennis? Since becoming part of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, table tennis has proven to be one of the most popular Olympic sports, drawing large crowds of spectators and plenty of television coverage around the world.


In previous Olympics (1988-2004), there have been four events contested in table tennis, all of which were individual events: Men's Singles, Women's Singles, Men's Doubles, and Women's Doubles.

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Men's Doubles and Women's Doubles have been eliminated, and have been replaced with a Men's Team and Women's Team competition instead, in which three players from the same country make up a team.

The Men's Singles and Women's Singles will consist of individual matches of best of 7 games, while the teams matches will consist of 5 individual matches which are best of 5 games (4 singles and 1 doubles match).


In table tennis (or ping-pong, as it is often called colloquially), two opponents (in singles) or two teams of two opponents (in doubles), play a match consisting of games (best of 5 or best of 7) and points (up to 11). The players use wood-based rackets covered in rubber to hit a 40mm diameter celluloid ball over a 15.25cm high net, onto the opponent's side of a table that is 2.74m (9 feet) long and 1.525m (5 feet) wide, and 76cm (~30 inches) high. The ITTF recommended court size for international competitions such as the Olympic Games is a playing space that is rectangular, and not less than 14m long, 7m wide, and 5m high (Law


According to the ITTF's Competition Format and Specific Regulations for the Beijing Olympic Games, the format for the various events are as follows:

Men's Singles / Women's Singles
In the Men's and Women's Singles, there will be a maximum of 86 players, with not more than three players from the same National Olympic Committee (NOC). If there are more than 64 qualified players, preliminary rounds will be held to reduce the number of players down to 64.

The top 20 direct qualifiers for the 2008 Olympics have already been decided - you can view the list of men's and women's qualifiers here.

Both the Men's and Women's Singles will use a knockout (single elimination) system, where each match will be the best of seven games. The players who have qualified in positions 1 to 16 are placed directly in the third round, players ranked 17-32 will be placed directly in the second round, and players ranked 33 and lower will be placed in the first round (once any necessary preliminary rounds are held to reduce the number of players to 64). You can see a diagram of the singles draw format here. The proposed date for the Men's and Women's Singles draw is currently 11 August 2008.

Men's Teams / Women's Teams
There will be a maximum of 16 teams allowed to enter in both the Men's and Women's Teams. Each team is made up of three players, with no reserves. That means if a player is injured and unable to play, the team must continue the competition with only two players!

Each team match consists of five individual matches, with the winner being the first team to win three individual matches. Each individual match is the best of 5 games.

The match schedule for a team match between Team 1 (Players A, B, C) and Team 2 (Players X, Y, Z) is as follows:

1. Singles - Player A vs Player X
2. Singles - Player B vs Player Y
Captain chooses the Doubles Pair, 5 minutes break
3. Doubles - Player C (who must play) and Player A or B vs Player Z (who must play) and Player X or Y
5 minutes break
4. Singles - Player A or B (whoever did not play in the doubles match) vs Player Z
5. Singles - Player C vs Player X or Y (whoever did not play in the doubles match)

The team competition is broken up into two stages - a first stage consisting of a round robin competition, and a final stage which is played via knock-out. The teams are broken up into 4 groups of 4 teams, with the top two teams of each group qualifying for the final stage.

In the final stage, the winning teams of each group from the first stage play a knockout semi-final format to determine the gold and silver medals. This means that only the first stage group winners have a chance to win a gold or silver medal.

The second placed teams of each group, and the losing semi-finalists shall then play off in another knockout contest to determine the winner of the bronze medal. You can see the format for how the teams draw works on the ITTF website.

The proposed date for the Men's and Women's Team draws is 7th August 2008. Once the Continental quota and host nation direct entry are determined, the remaining teams will be selected according to the May 2008 ITTF Team Specific Ranking List for all NOCs.

Read more about Important Olympic Table Tennis Rules

Back to Everything You Wanted to Know About Table Tennis/Ping-Pong at the Olympic Games

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