Used to be that if you asked us what hot Serbians flashing their underwear, Judah Friedlander
, and Susan Sarandon sex scandals had in common, we wouldn't have said ping-pong.
But that was before we investigated the burgeoning popularity of competitive and recreational table tennis, a pastime whose legitimacy we used to consider as being on the same level as Big Buck Hunter
Due in part to a trickle-down effect from being added to the Olympics in 1988 and also from the publicity generated by a few high-profile fans of the game, ping-pong is now experiencing a surge in relevance.
Read on to learn about celebrity-friendly table-tennis clubs, to see another photo of the comely Serbian Olympian pictured here, and to score some tips from a ping-pong pro who can beat you using his Blackberry Pearl instead of a paddle.
A table-tennis hotspot
Last summer, Jonathan Bricklin and some friends opened SPiN, a New York City bar and lounge dedicated to ping-pong culture
. They developed the idea by visiting what has effectively become the world headquarters of table tennis: China.
"My partners and I went on an exploration mission to another planet [China] and discovered their favorite sport and brought it back to Earth (America)," the 31-year-old tells Asylum. "Needless to say, [ping-pong has] been thoroughly tested there for over 50 years and by nearly a billion people, so it's safe to say [the sport] works."
Indeed it must. Bricklin has been linked in the gossip pages
to Susan Sarandon, the 63-year-old actress, who is evidently a huge ping-pong aficionado. SPiN is doing banging business as well.
A ping-pong pro
But SPiN isn't just a rec room for celebrities. One regular, Wally Green
, is on the pro circuit, and hails from a rough section of Coney Island.
At least the outspoken Olympic hopeful
-- who recently tweeted about beating "Law & Order: SVU" star Christopher Meloni using a cell phone "paddle" -- is refreshingly modest about his influence on ping-pong.
"The sport is becoming something that's hip and cool," he tells Asylum, "and I would consider myself the pioneer of making this sport hip and cool."
That new mainstream visibility, Green says, is what's made SPiN
a hotspot for the ping-ponging luminaries. Celebrity visitors who've picked up a paddle include Friedlander, Mike Myers, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson.
Is it sponge-worthy?
Like any sport, ping-pong has competing factions and in-fighting. Hardbat
aficionados disdain today's sponge-coated paddles, which increase the speed of each hit and enable competitors to add massive spin to the ball. The sponge crowd -- i.e., the majority of ping-pong players, including all Olympic competitors -- don't give too much credence the hardbat movement.
"It'd be like going back to wooden rackets in tennis," says Bricklin.
Wally Green is a bit blunter: "Let's be real -- it's a ridiculous idea. The sport has evolved. The only reason hardbat players feel that way is because they can't excel as well as they would like to in the way the sport has become today."
A paddle-wielding knockout
In addition to well-publicized controversies, every sport needs an attractive public face if it wants to go mainstream. This may be why bowling still suffers an image problem.
Luckily for ping-pong, it now has Serbian champ Biba Golic. The 32-year-old is often described as the "Anna Kournikova
of table tennis."
We take this to mean that A) she often exposes her undergarments while playing, and B) she probably will never sleep with us.
Ping-pong is for lovers
But maybe we should challenge Golic to a match. Bricklin swears that the sport makes for an inventive date night.
"It's something you can do together simultaneously, opposed to bowling or billiards," he says. "It's kind of like going dancing, without having to worry about being a good dancer or feeling awkward."
And with enough practice, you'll be reaping the physical rewards of a legitimate ping-pong career. As Green seems more than happy to attest, "Being a pro can definitely be a panty peeler."
Visit Killerspin for the same gear that Biba Golic uses. And if you're in New York, book a table at SPiN.