Ping Pong Diplomacy- Solving another Archives Mystery

Back in July, we wrote a blog post featuring some photo highlights from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, specifically, the table tennis matches between U.S. and China.

Until we recently came to a realization that table tennis wasn’t an Olympic Sport until 1988… hmmm?  (This is just another case, out of many, of why metadata, or data about data, is so important.  So write down those captions!)  So what were those photos?  When?  Where?

When one is faced with a question these days, we head to the same place everyone else does—Google.  Upon googling “Ping Pong China US,” we came across the first result—a Wikipedia article about Ping Pong Diplomacy, the table tennis games between the American and Chinese teams that surprisingly helped ease diplomatic relations between the two countries.  After more reading, and more googling, it seemed that these photos had to be related to Ping Pong Diplomacy.  According to one youtube video, the Chinese team had played in Los Angeles in April 1972.

But we couldn’t be sure.  Even on the internet, photos of the events were scarce and it was hard to tell if our photos matched the small, unclear ones online.  What we could tell, however, was that the Chinese uniforms were the same in our photos and on the internet.

The photo from the VC archives

The photo from the VC archives

See the similar medallion on the sweatshirt?  Still, hard to confirm… or perhaps, all Chinese uniforms look alike?  Need confirmation.

A 23-year old Connie Sweeris (above, right) and her fellow teammates Olga Soltesez (above, left) and Judy Hoarfrost (below, center) pose with members of the Chinese table tennis team in April, 1971.Courtesy of Connie Sweeris.  (From Smithsonianmag.com)

A 23-year old Connie Sweeris (above, right) and her fellow teammates Olga Soltesez (above, left) and Judy Hoarfrost (below, center) pose with members of the Chinese table tennis team in April, 1971.
Courtesy of Connie Sweeris. (From Smithsonianmag.com)

To confirm, we wrote to Tim Boggan, historian, past president, and former team member of USA Table Tennis (USATT.)  He is the author of 12 volumes about the USATT, so we felt positive about his authority.

While we waited for a response, we tried to guess the location.  No such luck.  Then a friend noticed a tiny banner in the back of the stadium that went unnoticed by our eyes.  Looking closer (lots of zooming), we could make out “??? 1971 National Basketball Champions.”

See that banner behind the American flag?  No?  Yeah, it's tiny.

See the writing on the banner behind the American flag? No? Yeah, it’s tiny.

Perhaps Bruins would have figured it quickly, but not us.  Again, Google helped.   It was UCLA!  Shortly thereafter, Mr. Boggan confirmed that the photos were, indeed, taken in April 1972.

A very happy ending to yet another archival mystery!  Check out our Ping Pong DIplomacy collection on our Historypin channel for just a small sample of the photos from the matches.

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