At 93, table tennis player Bill Guilfoil has hope for sport’s future

At 93, table tennis player Bill Guilfoil has hope for sport’s future

You won’t see table tennis player Bill Guilfoil at the Rio Games, unfortunately. The 93-year-old didn’t advance past the sport’s open tryouts in January.

The Kansas native has had a passion for ping pong since he was 13 years old in 1935 – 53 years before table tennis became an official Olympic sport.

“In 1932, there was a big revival of table tennis,” Guilfoil said in an interview with NBC Olympics. “I wasn’t too far behind in ’36, when I got into it. And now it’s absolutely booming.”

 

In fact, America did excel at international table tennis competitions in the 1930’s. American Ruth Aarons won women’s singles at the World Table Tennis Championships in 1936, and tied for gold in 1937; American men’s doubles teams won the titles from 1936 through 1938.

Unfortunately, Guilfoil’s table tennis career was compromised by World War II. He joined the military service at just 18 years old, serving in Germany for three years. But Guilfoil has kept the sport close to his heart since he first picked up a paddle, competing in national competitions and coaching younger athletes.

“Too many people give up, they sit at a computer. It’s good to keep busy.”

Bill Guilfoil

Over the decades, table tennis has undergone a variety of changes. Asian countries, particularly China, have dominated international competitions for the past 60 or so years; rackets have new types of rubbers, more refined shape, denser grip; in general, the sport’s speed has significantly increased.

Table tennis was introduced to the Olympics as a medal sport in 1988. The United States has never made it to the podium. But Guilfoil believes the sport continues to grow in his homeland, and encourages American youth to participate.

“You could start at home against a wall,” Guilfoil suggests. “That’s what I did when I was 13. I played the wall to the nationals, almost. It was amazing. … You have to get yourself acquainted with someplace. Used to be the YMCA, still see some interest in fire stations. Groups have table tennis lessons.”

Guilfoil still competes and coaches table tennis locally at the Overland Park Racquet Club in Kansas. The sport enables him to meet a variety of people – “doctors, lawyers, senators”. A devout Catholic, Guilfoil also enjoys attending church and participating in various volunteer projects.

“At 93, I’m able to run around the court pretty visibly,” Guilfoil said. “I still enjoy playing, it’s fun. … I’m always interested in doing new things, meeting new people. I strive to be better physically, mentally – every situation.”

Despite his busy schedule, Guilfoil confirms he’ll be watching the Games at home. Then it’s back to work.

 

“Don’t be busy all of the time, but be busy most of the time,” Guilfoil said.

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