If you’ve ever heard of ping-pong diplomacy between Nixon and China in the Cold War, then you’ll know that ping-pong matches can have the magical affect of thawing tense relations between bickering countries. Also known as table tennis, ping-pong is a popular competitive sport requiring players to have extraordinary hand-eye coordination and instantaneous reflexes.
Have you glimpsed those lovely new ping-pong tables in the Rio 2016 Olympics? San-EI Corporation, a leading Japanese manufacturer of ping-pong tables, had the honour of supplying the tables this year. These tables sport curvaceous wooden legs in lieu of the regular spindly ones, and boasts a new table colour called “Les yeux bleus”, or blue eyes.
In an interview, SAN-EI Corp. President Shin Miura explained how he was inspired by the experience of Japanese immigrants to Brazil, in which table tennis was a frequent source of entertainment in immigrants’ daily lives, to supply tables for the Rio Games. Together with Shinichi Sumikawa (who designed Sony’s Walkman), Miura sought ways to combine Japanese and Brazilian elements into one cohesive whole, while paying respect to the great 2011 Japanese earthquake disaster.
In hearing that Japan took home 3 medals (1 silver and 2 bronze) in this year’s tournament, Sumikawa said he felt “elated” and “thankful” that he was given the opportunity to design the tables. And although he typically doesn’t reveal design sketches, he did share this image below in light of all the media attention that the tables are getting:
According to San-Ei engineer Yesao Yoshizawa, when the International Table Tennis Federation first saw Sumikawa’s design sketches for the uniquely shaped legs, they said, “This table’s construction is absolutely unstable. It’s going to be very difficult to certify this.” Despite this doomsday message, after many days of trial and error, engineers were able to reinforce the table to exceed Olympic standards.