One of the curious things about Ping-Pong—table tennis, if you will—is that almost everyone thinks he plays it rather well, and that if given a few pointers and a little practice he could be a world beater. Dick Miles, who plays the game better than rather well—having won the U.S. championship 10 times between 1945 and 1962—helps make the dream a reality in an instructional beginning on page 30. Well, at least he offers advice that he guarantees will be worth five or more points to your game, enough, say, to beat your next-door neighbor.
Miles' first piece on table tennis in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ran six years ago, and since then he has contributed amusing stories on poker, Channel swimming and tennis. A bachelor, Miles lives in New York, rarely venturing very far—"I'm kind of a hermit"—except when he is on assignment.
One such trip occurred last April, when Miles went to Nagoya, Japan to cover the table-tennis world championships for SI and wound up on the cover of TIME magazine. How that happened is the stuff of history. The tournament was almost over when it was announced that the U.S. team and officials had been invited to visit Red China. Miles, although technically not a member of the U.S. party, figured that his record as the greatest U.S. player might be enough to wangle an invitation. So he began campaigning, enlisting the aid of such people as Roy Evans, president of the international association. The reaction of the Chinese was suitably inscrutable. "They kept smiling at me," Miles reports. "No answer, just smiles."
He did get the word that "through the years the Chinese players have spoken very highly of you"—and rightly so. No American has ever won the world title, but in 1959 Miles came close. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting past China's three best players in succession, Miles beat two of them before losing to the third in five games.
June 27, 1971
The last night of the Nagoya tournament, a farewell party was held for the 600 players and officials who had participated in the championships. From the Chinese came more smiles but nothing more. Finally Miles left the party and went upstairs to pack for home. That's when an American player pounded on his door, shouting, "You're going!" The following morning ABC, for whom Miles did color commentary on the tournament for Wide World of Sports, gave him a camera, film and a tape recorder and told him to do the same in China.
The trip turned out to be a delight. During the week they were there, the travelers gained rare glimpses of life inside China today, met Chou En-lai and got in several games of Ping-Pong. Miles himself played an exhibition match—his opponent "insisted on losing"—and he posed front and center for a picture with the U.S. party on The Great Wall that made the cover of TIME. Miles is home now, reflecting and writing on some of the implications of the historic trip, and when he gets it all down on paper he's promised it to us. Meanwhile, read what Miles has to say about playing the game. Then go on over and challenge a neighbor. Even if he's Chinese.