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 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.
“Too many people give up, they sit at a computer. It’s good to keep busy.”
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.
“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.”
“Don’t be busy all of the time, but be busy most of the time,” Guilfoil said.