COLUMBIA — Does Alan Chu scare you?
There's no real reason that he should. Unless of course you are standing on the other side of a green table with a paddle in your hand. Then the 5-foot-7, 132-pound bespectacled 25-year-old from Hong Kong is a menacing foe in short shorts ready to smack your serve down with a tiger-like swipe.
Mizzou Table Tennis Club and Red Mango are offering a special promotion. All day Sunday, patrons who mention "Mizzou Table Tennis" will automatically donate 20 percent off their purchase. Proceeds will help raise travel funds for nationals.
In addition, the Mizzou Table Tennis Club will hold a fundraiser from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. Tuesday in Memorial Union. The team will perform table tennis drills and tricks in the Benton-Bingham Ballroom (Room N214/215).
He is the founder, captain and top player for the Mizzou Table Tennis Club, only in its first year and already prominent on the national scene despite severe financial and talent-based restrictions. The team qualified for the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association National Championships in Rockford, Ill., this Friday, despite consisting of all non-scholarship players, lacking a home court and having a set practice time that hovers somewhere between when Chu texts them and “whenever they can.”
Members credit the success to the dedication and vision of Chu, who has organized practices, ordered uniforms and negotiated sponsorships with Columbia companies such as Brookside, a real estate company, to offset the university’s insufficient financial support.
"That's all Alan," teammate Scott Meredith said. "He's really into it, really enthusiastic."
A graduate student in sports psychology, Chu played table tennis in college for the City University of Hong Kong, competing for the national championships there as well. Asian influence is prominent on the table tennis scene both at Missouri and across the country, the result of a high number of transfer students who have previously trained in the East studying in American universities.
"It is pretty much the national sport of China," said Chu, who added the sport has become more popular in the country because of China's Olympic dominance. China has won 24 of 28 possible gold medals since table tennis was added to the games in 1988.
“If people there do sports, they know table tennis first.”
Six of Missouri's seven players are Chinese, all except Meredith. "I kind of stand out of the crowd," he said, smiling.
At nationals Missouri will face competition from powerhouses like Lindenwood University in St. Charles and Mississippi College, both ranked in the top five thanks to the recruiting of scholarship players from overseas.
“For that school, table tennis is basically like football, baseball, something like that,” Chu said of Lindenwood. “But for us, we’re basically working on our own.”
And about Mississippi College, ranked No. 2 nationally: "All their players are from mainland China. These are very good players,” Chu said in a tone that implied an understatement.
But more important than the demographic is the cultural influence Chinese players have brought to the identity of their sport in America.
At the forefront is a debate. “Table tennis” or “pingpong”?
“I don’t get offended, but I would correct them,” said Chu, on how he’d react to someone saying he plays pingpong. “To me it is table tennis. Table tennis is a serious sport. People associate pingpong with just fun.”
Meredith is on board, citing the complexity of the game and the expertise required for serious players. The differences are great, he said, between pingpong and table tennis. Table tennis demands a more expensive paddle with different rubbers on each side for different situations.
“Technique,” Meredith said.
One can swing a paddle with short pips — small, jagged bumps that affect how the ball spins — or with long pips or with no pips at all. Terms like backspin, topspin, loops, flipping and chops need to be memorized, and in doubles play, teamwork must be implemented.
Which is why Chu, Meredith and teammate Yuyang Ying were at the MU Student Recreation Complex on Thursday, reviewing under-the-table hand signals that tell the non-serving player what type of spin the server will put on the ball. Chu dictated the lesson and the pace of the practice, which lasted just a half hour before everyone split for class.
Having Chu at the helm is both accurate and indicative of the way he's pioneered the sport at MU. The 29th-ranked male player nationally, Chu's match rating is about a thousand points higher than any of his teammates. But he uses his training in sports psychology to lead, nurturing the talent of his teammates and ambitiously taking his little club to the heights of table tennis competition before it's too late.
And that's the scariest thing about Alan Chu. That it stands to reason nobody will put as much time, effort and heart into this game at this school than he has.
“It’s a shame because he’s graduating this year,” Meredith said. “Once he’s gone it’ll probably fall apart.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers