With 29 medal events and nearly 300 athletes, Table Tennis is one of the largest sports on the Paralympic programme.
Table Tennis has come a long way from its origins in the late 19th century, when it developed as an after-dinner game played by upper-class English families. A permanent part of the Paralympic programme since the first Games in 1960, the sport blends power, speed, skill and subtlety – no wonder it is the biggest participation sport in the world.
Thursday 30 August – Saturday 8 September
Number of medal events
29: men’s and women’s Singles, men’s and women’s Team, across a variety of classifications, including both standing and wheelchair athletes.
Number of competitors
276: 174 men and 102 women
Each country is limited to three athletes in each Singles event, and one team in each Team event.
1–5: wheelchair athletes
6–10: standing athletes
11: athletes with intellectual disabilities
Within the wheelchair and standing classes, the lower the number, the greater the impact the impairment has on an athlete’s ability to compete.
Field of play
The Table Tennis table is the same as that for Olympic matches: 2.74m long and 1.525m wide. It is 76cm above the floor and divided in half by a 15.25cm-high net.
History of Table Tennis at the Paralympic Games
Table Tennis has been part of the Paralympic programme since the first Games at Rome in 1960 (28 years before the sport made its Olympic debut). Events for standing players were first included at the Toronto 1976 Games, while athletes with cerebral palsy took part for the first time at Moscow in 1980.
Table Tennis is based on the same basic principles as Tennis, but it has a very different scoring system, and a ball weighing just 2.7g. Singles matches are played over the best of five games, with the first player to 11 points (by a margin of two clear points) winning each game. Team matches consist of four singles matches and one doubles match, each played over the best of five games.
Each team consists of three players and matches end when a team has won three individual games.
In Doubles matches, players take turns to hit the ball, with one hit each before alternating.
Unlike in Tennis where a player serves for a whole game, in Table Tennis the service changes after every two points have been scored. Once the score gets to 10–10, the serve changes after every point. In Doubles games, as well as the serve alternating between teams, it alternates between players too.
For a complete set of rules, please refer to the website of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), governing body for the sport.
The Singles events start with a group stage, with the best players progressing to the knockout stages. The Team events are run in a knockout format. Players and teams progress through the draw until the finals. The winners of the semi-finals play in the gold medal match and the losers of the semi-finals compete for the bronze medal.
An umpire and assistant umpire sit or stand on either side of the table, in line with the net. They are responsible for ensuring the game is played within the rules and that the score is kept and announced accurately.
Keys to success
Table Tennis is played at high speed and players need lightning reactions, incredible technical skill and high levels of fitness.
Breaking the rules
As well as matching the speed of play of their opponent, players need to ensure they stay within the rules of the game. A point can be awarded to the opposition for an infringement such as touching the table or net, an illegal serve, or a Doubles player striking the ball out of sequence.
Blade – the flat, rigid part of the racket used for striking the ball.
Loop – an attacking shot, often played with plenty of topspin.
Penhold – a type of grip where the racket is held as if it were a pen.
Let – as well as service lets (similar to Tennis), a let may be called if play is interrupted – for example, by a ball from another table entering the court. If this happens, the rally is replayed.
Time-out – each player may claim a time-out of up to one minute during an individual match.
If you want to find out about Table Tennis in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body. To find out how you can get involved in Table Tennis in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com
For more information on the Table Tennis competition at London 2012 and the rules of the sport, go to the website of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), governing body for the sport.