of the eighty-eight total Olympic medals awarded for table tennis, China has
won forty-seven and North Korea has won three, so do not expect the
totalitarian-friendly IOC to drop the sport anytime soon. However, a young generation
of players dream of winning the first American table tennis medal. Sara Newens
& Mina T. Son follow three promising U.S. Olympic team hopefuls throughout
the season leading up to the London Games in Top Spin (trailer
screens during this year’s DOC NYC.
Hsing and Lily Zhang both live in North California and play an aggressive,
attacking style of table tennis. Women’s championships often come down to the
two of them. Currently, Hsing is number one, but it is always a pitched battle.
Long Island’s Michael Landers is also a leading contender, but the odds might
be a bit longer for him to secure a spot on the Olympic team. All three have
sacrificed much of the traditional high school experience to pursue glory in the
games, but Zhang seems to do a better job balancing a social life with her
arduous competition schedule.
so don’t call it ping pong. Clearly, all three young athletes train like mad.
Newens and Son give viewers a good sense of the physically demanding work they
do, as well as the considerable mental preparation required. Of course, they do
it all solely with the Olympics in mind, since there is no professional table
tennis circuit to speak of in America.
for Newens and Son, the leading contenders are also highly engaging screen
presences. It seems like they were born to be interviewed by Bob Costas. Their
parents are also frequently seen throughout the film, coming across
unflaggingly supportive. According to the post-script, Hsing, Zhang, and
Landers have all successfully transitioned to college life, so they obviously
did something right. However, the film clearly implies the Zhangs gave greater
priority to their daughter’s social development, which is a subject worthy of
definitely get a thorough understanding of the Olympic qualifying process from Top Spin, but it resists getting bogged
down in micro-details. Frankly, the various ball-spin strategies remain utterly
mysterious. However, Newens & Son were once again fortunate to have a
relatively upbeat (if not necessarily Cinderella story) ending. Anyone who sees
their documentary will follow table tennis at the 2016 Rio Games much more
closely, looking for the return of familiar names to build on their London
experience, which should make NBC delighted. Recommended for fans of the
Olympics and scrappy underdogs, Top Spin screens
this Saturday (11/15) as part of DOC NYC 2014.
Labels: DOC NYC '14, Documentary, Sports films