Ping Pong Diplomacy Rematch

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Original team members from the 1971 ping pong diplomacy event will face-off again today at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in southern California. The event, which kicked off Tuesday with exhibitions and training sessions for students, will culminate in a rematch today between two of the original players: Tim Boggan, 77 (!!), and Liang Geliang, formerly one of the top players in the world. The 1971 ping pong exhibition helped pave the way for former U.S. president Richard Nixon’s visit to China the following year and a subsequent thaw in U.S.-China relations. Only a handful of reporters were allowed to travel with the U.S. team to China, including a TIME correspondent who wrote an in-depth feature, “The Ping Heard Round the World.” Here’s one of the colorful excerpts:

“When it came to the stated object of the visit, an exhibition table tennis match, the visitors found undiminished the Chinese sense of courtesy and ceremony. A full 18,000 people had gathered in Peking’s modern Indoor Stadium to watch the event, and they burst into applause when the Americans, wearing blue uniforms, marched in with the red-togged Chinese team. A banner announced: WELCOME TO THE TABLE TENNIS TEAM FROM THE UNITED STATES. At a loss over how to reciprocate, Glenn Cowan [Note: Cowan, one of the team members, is described earlier in the article as “a longhaired student from Santa Monica, CA], clad in tie-dyed purple bellbottoms, broke into a sort of frug to the strains of a somewhat unfamiliar tune: Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman, Making Revolution Depends on Mao Tse-tung’s Thought.”

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