At 51, table tennis "Grandpa" Chen Yinghua hits the ball as hard as his teenage partner.
As the young player drills a ball to his forehand, Chen smacks it back low and hard. While forced to use his backhand, he moves nimbly to his left, deftly raising his paddle and nailing that one, too.
"Am I old? I don't think so. You look older," the former Chinese national player cracked jokes with the Xinhua reporter while picking up balls during Monday's practice session.
"I came here to learn and to show it's never too old to play table tennis. Seriously."
Chen, who became a U.S. citizen in 1996, pointed his paddle to the other table at which his 46-year-old teammate Zhuang Yongxiang, also a former Chinese, was practising. "This world championships has a lot of old guys, doesn't it? It's really fun," said the oldest player in the Yokohama worlds that opens on Tuesday.
Chen and Zhuang are among a bunch of oldies who came here to prove that table tennis isn't a sport only for the young.
Even though the sport requires reflexes, agility, power and speed, those no longer as quick about court as before believe they can catch up with the young through their experiences.
"Table tennis is an art more than a sport and its minute maneuvers can be done by experienced players," once said Jan-Ove Waldner, the living table tennis legend who had held the table tennis world in awe for over 20 years before he retired at 40.
His best friend Jorgen Persson remains as the backbone of the Swedish team at 43. Words are out that the former world champion might retire in this championships.
Swedish newspapers report that Persson, who finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic Games, plans to wrap up his national team career in Japan, where he won the world singles title in 1991.
Jean-Michael Saive of Belgium, Zoran Primorac of Croatia and Gao Jun of the United States are other old-timers tipped to steal limelight.
The 39-year-old Saive, the men's singles runner-up in 1993, participates this year for the 18th time in a row and is only one behind Victor Barna.
Primorac, 39, has not won a big title since winning the 1993 World Cup, but his power and fighting spirit continue.
Gao Jun, 40, is a former Chinese world champion who plays for the United States. She is good at unnerving rivals by playing fast attacking game with a rare pimpled rubber.
Huang Biao, head of the Chinese team, said that a laid-back attitude helps table tennis oldies thrive.
"These veteran players don't care too much about winning or losing. With that attitude, you can always present the best of yourself," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency April 27, 2009)