Tournament in experienced hands

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A major table tennis competition in Oamaru today andtomorrow is expected to run smoothly one of the organisers has attended all 45 predecessors
Russell Pope is the only person who has never missed the South Island Clubs Table Tennis Tournament since it began in 1971. One year behind him is Earl Scott, from the Richmond club in Christchurch.
Thirty teams are playing in four grades this year. Mr Pope said that like most sports, table tennis is struggling for numbers these days. He recalls more than 70 teams taking part in 1975.
Oamaru has been the host eight or nine times before, he said. One year, it needed seven halls around the town and Weston to accommodate all the tables.
The 30 tables for the tournament’s 46th incarnation are set up in the Waitaki Community Recreation Centre – 16 in the main gym with the grandstand, and 14 in the rear gym. Setting up the centre included blacking out the windows to ensure even light over the tables.
The Dunedin Metropolitan Club brought 15 tables to Oamaru and the local club supplied the other 15, Mr Pope said.
Sponsorship from local businesses helped to cover costs.
He was full of admiration for the organising committee, saying secretary Bev Inkersell has done “a fantastic job”.
The public is welcome to go along to the Rec Centre and watch the table tennis free of charge, Mr Pope said.
He is playing in the C grade this year, having previously represented Oamaru in A Reserve and B.
Table tennis is a sport where the genders are not segregated.
The Oamaru Club has about 18 regular players, including “a few younger people”.
Member Janet Calder helps to enlist future aficionados by coaching pupils at Oamaru Intermediate School.
Changes were introduced after the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, aimed at making table tennis more attractive as a televised spectator sport. The balls became slightly bigger, games went from being the first to 11 points instead of 21, and each player has two consecutive serves instead of five.
Mr Pope said players were now moving away from bats with sponge layers that fostered spin, and returning to a pimpled surface that countered spin.
Table tennis is an ideal sport for people of all ages and has few prima donnas, he said.
The South Island Clubs tournament is as much about socialising as sport, with many players enjoying renewing acquaintances each year.
Two teams are crossing the main divide from Hokitika, with two Auckland members who joined their club just so they could play in the tournament, Mr Pope said.
To encourage the social side of the event, an informal gathering was held at the Oamaru Club last night and there will be another tonight. Tomorrow night, a band will be playing live music there.