Olympic table tennis tables suit Tokyo to a T

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The tables upon which Olympic athletes will serve and slam in 2020 are not your basement ping-pong tables.

Japanese company San-Ei designed and built the tables for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the manufacturers are building a new style for the 2020 Games in their home country.

The most distinctive part of the table is the undercarriage, which has graceful curves spelling out the letter T — “T” for Tokyo and “T” for table tennis. 

San-Ei is using monarch birch wood from the Tohoku region in Japan, which the company says is part of an effort to help the tsunami-stricken region rebound.

A promotional video for the new table shows machinery rolling the birch logs and cutting them into sheets that workers assemble into a surface that is painted before it is subjected to tests to make sure the bounce and friction meets precise specifications.

The tables are not in use this week at the ITTF Team World Cup this week in Tokyo, which is being live-streamed on the ITTF site.

In the first day of group play, South Korea swept the U.S. men, setting up a must-win for the U.S. against Sweden. The U.S. features 19-year-old Kanak Jha, once the top-ranked under-18 player in the world and now ranked 26th at the senior level. Jha was the youngest U.S. athlete at the 2016 Olympics.

The U.S. women are in the same situation, needing a win against Austria after a 3-0 loss to Japan. Two-time Olympian Lily Zhang, who last month became the first U.S. player to reach a semifinal in the World Cup, is currently ranked 33rd.

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