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Table Tennis or Ping Pong likely began as a social hobby in England toward the end of the 1800's. Dining-room tables and balls of cork made up some of the early equipment that was used. These early pioneers may have referred to their sport as gossima, flim-flam, or ping-pong. Around the turn of the century, the game underwent a few changes in England. One person introduced a celluloid ball to the game, while another added pimpled rubber to the wooden paddle. The recreational game lost some of its popularity until various groups around Europe revived it as "table tennis" in the 1920s. The International Table Tennis Association (ITTF) was formed in 1926. The sport soon spread to Japan and other Asian nations. The Japanese dominated the sport for much of the 50s and 60s, however the Chinese soon closed the gap. China alone dominated the sport for much of the 60's and 70's, but after Table Tennis became an Olympic event in the 1980's, other nations such as Sweden and South Korea have joined the top ranks.
One of the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations came on April 6, 1971, when the American Ping-Pong team, in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, received a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues for an all-expense paid visit to the People's Republic. Time magazine called it "The ping heard round the world." On April 10, nine players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, ushering in an era of "Ping-Pong diplomacy." They were the first group of Americans allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949. Ping-Pong was "an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Peking as each nation signaled, in turn, its openness to change. Despite the public warming trend, Nixon and Kissinger decided to keep their back-channel negotiations with China to themselves. It was not until July 15, after Kissinger's secret mission to Beijing, that Nixon announced that he, too, would make the journey the following year, as the first American president to visit China.