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History of USA Table Tennis Volume 12

CHAPTER SIX

            1983: U.S. Pan Am Trials.        

The U.S. Pan Am Trials were held Mar. 15-21 at Colorado Springs. Dennis Masters will cover the Men’s for us, then Shazzi Felstein will follow with the Women’s. 

Men’s Play

            “At 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 15, Yvonne Kronlage, my son Brian, and I left our homes in Columbia, MD to catch our flight to Colorado. At the airport we met Larry Hodges and Barney Reed who were scheduled to fly with us (Barney and his wife had driven over from Harrisburg, PA and she had then returned home, a two-hour drive).

            At first we were told that there’d be an hour delay, but when the hour was up, we were down—for they’d canceled the flight. We started to make reservations on an afternoon plane, but before we could complete them, that flight too was canceled. So we made reservations on a plane out the next morning and were about to leave the airport when I figured why not be on the safe side and make reservations on the Wednesday evening flight as well.

            On Tuesday evening we got a phone call telling us our Wednesday morning flight had been cancelled. That was not good news of course; still, I was pleased that we’d taken the precaution of making reservations on the evening plane. But when I tried to confirm our seats on this flight I was told that someone had cancelled out Brian and me and that the plane was completely booked. It took a number of phone calls and several hours before Brian and I were back on the list (supposedly our names had been misspelled).

            On Wednesday afternoon, Yvonne, Brian, and I again arrived at the airport—this time to meet Donna Newell and Dave Sakai. Again we were told that our flight had been delayed—by 1 and ½ hours. Of course we were fearful of more complications, but finally we did get on board and our plane did leave—with just enough time for us to make our Colorado Springs connection out of Denver.
            Later, just about the time we were due to land in Denver, the pilot announced that we would have to circle for 40 minutes. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘most connecting flights will also be delayed.’

            On getting off the plane we hurried to a different part of the terminal…only to find our flight to Colorado Springs had left.
            So, what to do? Maybe we could catch a bus? No luck that way. I checked with the other commuter airlines and found that one had a flight leaving in 10 minutes. So I ran to grab Yvonne and Brian, but when I returned with them the flight was full. Hurry, someone said, there was another flight at the end of the airport. So we dashed crazily for that…and found it completely booked. All we could do was get wait-listed and hope.

            Randy Seemiller was scheduled for the same flight—that was good. But when more and more people with reservations kept showing up, I was afraid we weren’t going to get on. Eventually we did, however, and arrived in Colorado Springs on Thursday at 12:30 a.m.—minus of course our luggage.

            We met Sol Schiff, Sean O’Neill, Scott Butler, Brian Eisner, Lim Ming Chui, and Liana Panesko—all had had similar problems. Sol hired a van and Bill Haid got someone to open the Registration Office. That night there wasn’t much sleep for any of us.

            On Wednesday morning after breakfast we had a meeting and saw a short film. By then everyone had arrived or would shortly be arriving—except for three women and four men. We then found out that five women weren’t coming and that most likely two of the men wouldn’t make it. What about the other two—Jimmy Lane and Charles Butler? Jimmy was scheduled to come in Late Friday night and Charles had called Bill Haid on Monday saying he was on his way from Germany.

            I decided to look around the USOC headquarters and quickly discovered it was a great place for athletes to train: the food was good, the accommodations good, and the playing facility great.

            They had 14 tables, but only eight Joolas—which would be used for the Trials. We figured we’d better start Friday night and run the first two rounds of the Prelims. [In both the Men’s and Women’s, eight players had been selected to play in these Trials and 16 more had qualified through Regional Trials. Now here in Colorado Springs, the top four players from each of three groups would advance (with carry-overs) to the Final Round Robin of 12—out of which would come the five men and four women who would make up the U.S. Team that would play in the Pan Am Games Aug. 14-29 at Caracas, Venezuela.]

            On Friday afternoon Neal Fox made up the draws and included both Jimmy and Charles. It was decided that if they arrived before 10:30 Saturday morning we could allow them to make up the matches, but if they didn’t they’d have to be defaulted. It’d been snowing since we arrived, and since a heavy snow was predicted, we weren’t sure whether they would make it in even if they tried to.

            On Friday afternoon Charles called. He was in New York and wanted to know if he should bother coming; if he did come he would be out of money when he got to Denver. Sol told him to come, said a ticket would be waiting for him there.

            We started to play on Friday at 7:00 p.m.  Lane arrived late Friday night but not Butler. Since it was starting to snow hard it didn’t look too good for Charles.     

            Saturday morning the third round of the Prelims was played, and we were about ready to start the fourth when we were told that Charles had made it and was changing into his playing clothes. How, though, were Jimmy and Charles going to play every well without practicing—especially under these (6-7,000 feet high) conditions?

            As it turned out, the Preliminaries went pretty much as expected—except that Mike Veillette knocked out Chui and so took his place in the Final Round Robin. (Small consolation that Lim would win the Sunday Men’s Consolation event.) Brian Masters and George ‘The Chief’ Braithwaite were the only players advancing out of the Prelims who were undefeated. ‘The Chief’ was playing great and was of course in excellent shape. He told me he’d been

preparing for these Trials since the beginning of January. Late arrival Lane had two losses (to Sean O’Neill and Randy Seemiller), and struggling Charles Butler, almost out of it before he began, had three losses (to Perry Schwartzberg, Dave Sakai, and George).

            After dinner we played two rounds of the Final Round Robin—and naturally there were some tough matches. When Brian lost to Sean, and “The Chief” lost to Scott Butler, five players were tied with a 4-1 record—Sean, Brian, George, Perry, and Scott.

            Sunday morning Perry lost to Sean, Brian lost to Perry, and ‘The Chief’ lost to Dean Doyle. Then at lunch, with three rounds left to play, Sean, Brian, ‘The Chief,’ and Scott were all 6-2. Perry and Jimmy were 5-3. And Randy and Dean were 4-4.

            Sean looked to be in good shape—he had Scott, Mike, and Charles to play. Brian was faced with ‘The Chief,’ Jimmy, and Charles. George had Brian, Mike, and Brandon. Perry would meet Jimmy, Dean, and Scott. Randy told me the only way he could make the Team was to win his last three matches—over Dave, Scott, and Dean.   Jimmy had tough opponents to play—Perry, Brian, and Dave. And Dean had to face Brandon, Perry, and Randy. It looked clearly like anything could happen.

            But with the next round the picture began to form. Sean became 7-2 when, after losing the first game to Scott, he won the next two going away. Brian became 7-2 when he beat ‘The Chief’ in three. Perry joined George and Scott at 6-3 when he defeated Lane in straight games. Randy joined Jimmy at 5-4 when (after a 25-23 first game) he downed Sakai two straight. Dean was at 4-5 after losing to Brandon and looked out of it.

            After the next to last round some positions were clear. When Sean beat Charles two straight he was 8-2 and in. Brian’s straight-game win over Lane made him 8-2 and he was in. ‘The Chief’ got to 7-3 with a victory over Veillette and was looking good. Perry, too, was at 7-3 after beating Doyle in straight games, and he had the advantage of a good game-record. The biggest match of the round—perhaps of the whole tournament—was Randy’s 28-26-in-the-third win over Scott. Seemiller was fighting as hard as he could alright, but would he make it? Now at least he had a chance, for both he and Scott Butler had 6-4 records.

            So. The last round.

            Sean finished with a win over Mike. Brian, locked in like Sean, started shakily against Charles, lost the first but won the next two. ‘The Chief’ handled Brandon. Perry won the first game from Scott, but Scott, with his chances slipping away these last rounds, fought hard and just eked out a 19-in-the-third win. Randy, too, was in trouble, lost the first to Dean at deuce, but won the next two easily. Which meant that Perry, Randy, and Scott all ended with 7-4 records—but that it was Butler who would lose out in the tie-breaker.

            Final Standings. Team members: 1. Sean O’Neill (9-2/18-6). 2. Brian Masters (9-2/16-7). 3. George Brathwaite (8-3). 4. Perry Schwartzberg (7-4/16-8). 5. Randy Seemiller (7-4/16-10).

            Finishers who qualify with the Top Five for June 24-July 3 National Sports Festival: 6. Scott Butler (7-4/16-12). 7. Jim Lane (6-5). 8. Dean Doyle (4-7/11-16). 9. Brandon Olson (4-7/11-16). 10. Mike Veillette (2-9/8-19).

            Alternate Sports Festival finishers: 11. Charles Butler (2-9/7-19). 12. Dave Sakai (1-10).

            The players I have to say were just great. I know because Neal Fox had to fly out early Sunday morning, leaving me the entire Control Desk, and I didn’t have one problem. I want to thank Sol Schiff; Chief Umpire Allen Barth; all the other umpires; Neal Fox; Bill Haid; and especially Bob Tretheway, who helped every one of us in so many ways. It was a great experience for everyone, and everyone is certainly looking forward to coming back to this USOTC training headquarters as soon as possible.” 

Women’s Play

            Shazzi says, “We arrived at the Olympic Complex at night, drove past dark buildings and open spaces. Suddenly I saw the Olympic Rings—five crossed rings with USA on top. It really hit me then, this wasn’t on TV, we were actually HERE! That thrill at being part of the Olympics remained with me throughout our stay.

            There were 19 women players out of a planned 24. We were a mixed group, young teenagers to mature women, from seven states—all of us with different backgrounds (but all U.S. citizens as required) brought together by our common love of table tennis, our talent and dedication. Throughout the week, despite intense competition in matches, off the tables the atmosphere remained warm and friendly among most of the players.

            We played in the recently completed $6,500,000 Field House—on Joola tables in a gym with excellent lighting, plenty of room (unless you were Dean Doyle), and wood floors so beautiful they glowed. The only catch was the altitude—at 6,000 feet or so, the air is thinner, so that the ball sometimes seems to float, and you can get out of breath faster than usual. Fortunately we had several days of practice to adjust before the competition began.

            When play started on Friday evening, we were divided into three Preliminary groups of 6, 6, and 7. From each of these groups four players would advance to play in a Final Round Robin of 12 that would determine the four women Pan Am Team members who would compete in Caracas, Venezuela in August. There were two upsets on Friday evening: Flora Ng beat Takako Trenholme in Group 1, and Donna Newell beat Lisa Gee in Group 3. Group 2 didn’t have any upsets until Saturday morning when Hanna Butler (1711) defeated the Group’s top two players, Angie Sistrunk (#2 seed) and Kasia Gaca (#4 seed). Hanna, a very talented 18-year-old lefty from Ontario, CA, used a strong forehand and steady exchanges to achieve her spectacular play. “It was like a miracle,” she said later.

            Angie, who’d made the 1983 U.S. World Team, had problems throughout this tournament. She’d spent the last week in bed with a severe strep throat, and [like Scott Boggan, the #2 player on the U.S. World Team who didn’t want to spend the money commuting from Germany] had inquired about the possibility of being chosen for the fourth spot on the Team without competing here. On receiving [like Scott] a negative response, she’d disregarded her doctor’s advice and come to play. On Saturday, she lost to Hanna, 15, -23, -18, to Diana Gee, 19, -13, -19, and to Kasia, 5, -17, -18, in consecutive matches. Her two matches Saturday evening she won, but each went three games. To someone who said she felt weak, it must have been a rough day. ‘This is a whole new experience for me,’ said Angie. ‘Are you enjoying it?’ I asked. ‘Oh, to the max,’ she said.

            Diana not only beat Angie, she also beat Kasia and all the other players in this Group 2, so (6-0) finished first. Hanna lost only to Diana and (5-1) came in second. Kasia (4-2) was third. And Angie (3-3) fourth. Not advancing to the Final Round Robin, all with 1-5 records, were Ardith Lonnon, Shazzi Felstein, and Yvonne Kronlage who doubled as player/coach.

            In Group 1, Insook Bhushan finished first (5-0). I hardly think I’m giving anything away when I say that Insook was to have a perfect record. Not only did she never lose a game, but no one ever got more than 14 points off her. Her playing (as well as her sportsmanship) was impeccable throughout. Also advancing from Group 1 was Takako Trenholme, Judy Hoarfrost, and Flora Ng (all 3-2). Not advancing were Liana Panesko (1-4) and Jamie Medvene (0-5).

            In Group  3, Alice Green and Sheila O’Dougherty both advanced with 4-1 records. Alice lost to Lisa, and Sheila lost to Alice. In third place was Lisa (3-2). There was a tie for fourth between Cindy Miller and Donna Newell (both 2-3). That Cindy advanced with a better record on games was a real break for Lisa who carried over her Cindy win but not her loss to Donna. Also not advancing was Monica Rosal (0-5), making a welcome reappearance on the t.t. scene after a long absence.

            Final Round Robin play began with two rounds on Saturday evening. There would be three rounds Sunday morning and three rounds Sunday afternoon. Thus each player would play the finalists from the other three groups. Insook and Diana had the best records going into the Final, each with no losses. Alice, Sheila, and Hanna had one loss. Lisa, Kasia, Takako, Judy, and Flora had two losses. Angie and Cindy had uphill battles ahead with three losses. The top 10 players (plus six more to be selected) would be invited back to this site for the National Sports Festival in late June.              

            The first round of the Final paired players from the same area on the theory that friends should play each other early while everyone is still fighting to win. I chose to watch Lisa and Diana Gee who warmed up together until match time. It was a well-played, not quite mirror-image match. Diana, with her Tackiness-Feint racket, was a little more aggressive, a bit quicker in the exchanges, made fewer mistakes, and so beat her sister (Sriver pips-out) fairly easily.

            Altogether, in the two rounds Saturday evening, the higher-rated player beat the lower-rated player every time. This was probably the only session in which that happened, as the level of play was quite strong, with many unpredictable results. After Saturday night, Insook and Diana remained unbeaten (5-0), Sheila still had only 1 loss, Alice and Lisa had 2 losses, and Angie, Kasia, and Hanna 3 losses. Only Alice and Kasia had played Insook. (Whenever comparing win-loss records, it was necessary to take into account whether or not the losses included Insook, as it seemed very likely she would win all her matches.)

            By Sunday morning, with five rounds completed and six rounds to go, every match seemed to be crucial. So far there’d been some interesting results.

            SUNDAY ROUND 1: Alice won the first game from Diana, lost the second at 7, then came back strongly to win the third at 19, giving Diana her first loss. Angie beat Sheila, 19, 22, to keep her hopes alive. Cindy and Flora with 1-4 records were playing to at least make the top 10, if not the top 4. Flora won the first game, was up 20-15 in the second—and lost the match! Cindy’s good serves were a big help to her as she served her way to deuce. This match was to come back to haunt Flora.

            SUNDAY ROUND 2: There were two upsets in this round. Lisa won in three over Angie, but the way Angie was going, you had to stop calling her losses upsets. There was an interesting match between Kasia and Cindy (one of the few between two loopers). Cindy with a forehand loop, anti-spin backhand, and excellent serves (including a high-toss one), practiced, practiced, practiced all through the tournament. When she didn’t have a partner (usually brother-in-law and coach Jeff Mason), she was out there alone practicing serves. She and Kasia played a very close first game which Kasia won at 19. In the second, Cindy up 18-17, used her serves to force high returns from Kasia that either went long or gave Cindy set-ups. One apiece. In the third game, Kasia began by missing everything. She looped her forehand and backhand off the table on every shot. As she clearly got angrier and angrier with herself, she played worse and worse. Serving at 8-17 she finally pulled herself together and started to play, got up to 17 before losing.

            SUNDAY ROUND 3: As I saw Kasia heading back to the same table she had just lost on, I said, ‘Stay cool, Kasia.’ ‘I’m just warming up getting mad,’ she answered. I saw Sheila coming to the same table and thought it should be an interesting match. I didn’t see the first two games, which they split, but I did see the third, in which Kasia was almost playing a repeat of her last match. She started out by missing everything, was down 11-4, then 18-12. But now Kasia was fighting. Her loops started going on and Sheila’s off, and quickly Kasia had closed to deuce. Now, though, she looped Sheila’s serve into the net, then down match point she served off the table! Had Kasia won this match, it would have been a huge swing, reversing her and Sheila’s final standings.

            At other tables, Angie lost the first to Insook, 21-13. In the second, she played an excellent point to get to 12-13. ‘That’s it!’ she said. Moments later, Insook was up 20-12, won at 13. Meanwhile, Cindy and Judy battled. Cindy won the first at 15. In the second, Judy was up 17-13 with the serve. But this match was very much like Judy’s other matches. Whenever she was in a position to win, she started missing and lost. In this case she lost the second at 19 to sink lower and lower in the standings, while Cindy was improving hers.

            We went to lunch with three rounds yet to play. After lunch, I returned to my room and figured the possibilities for the Team. I decided that Insook was a lock with her 8-0 record, and Diana at 7-1 was slmost a lock. Alice at 6-2 was probably going to make it, despite having three tough matches ahead with Takako, Angie, and Kasia. Sheila and Lisa were tied at 5-3, but Sheila was in much better shape with at least two likely wins ahead (Flora and Hanna), while Lisa had a sure loss to Insook coming and a tough match with Kasia. It looked like 7-4 would probably make the Team, and 6-5 almost certainly wouldn’t. Off then I went to the Field House to see what would happen.

            SUNDAY ROUND 4. This round the top two women in the standings played each other. Diana’s play was absolutely outstanding throughout the competition, and with her fine temperament she’ll keep getting better [especially if she has newly-arrived famous Chinese coach Li Henan settling in the States and giving her tips]. But she just wasn’t ready for Insook. Alice beat Takako, virtually assuring her place in the top four. Sheila’s win over Flora and Lisa’s loss to Kasia made it seem even likelier that Insook, Diana, Alice, and Sheila would make it. Judy beat Hanna, 9, 9 in a match that would help determine who finished in the top 10.

            SUNDAY ROUND 5. When Alice discovered that she’d made the Team, she was pleased because now, she said, the pressure was off, and she could relax and play her best. Famous last words. She lost her last two matches to Kasia and Angie. Kasia and Alice pushed largely backhand to backhand, both looking for an opening—Kasia wanted to loop the forehand, Alice wanted to pick the backhand. After Kasia won the first at deuce, Alice’s resistance seemed to crumble and she lost the second at 13. Sheila’s loss to Diana and Lisa’s win over Judy kept them tied for the fourth spot at 6-4—but Sheila would play Hanna who after that brilliant start in the Prelim’s lost her game, and 14-year-old Lisa had to face Insook. Flora’s win over Hanna meant that going into the last round Flora, Hanna, and Judy were tied for last at 2-8. Only one of them would finish in the top 10.

            SUNDAY Round 6. No surprises. Insook did beat Lisa, and Sheila did beat Hanna. Team Trials seem to bring out the best in Sheila. Her third-place finish should help make up for her disappointing injury in Las Vegas that forced her to drop out of the World Team Trials. Alice, having lost third-place to Sheila on points, nevertheless had the distinction, like Insook, of making both the World Championship and Pan American Teams. Kasia, after a very rough Sunday morning, came back to win her last three matches and so became first alternate on the Pan Am Team. Though Judy had a bad tournament, didn’t seem to have the drive to finish off her opponents, she did finish 10th, and so earned a spot in the upcoming National Sports Festival.

            There’d been a round robin Sunday morning for the non-finalists, with the winner to get $20 worth of merchandise from the USTTA. However, three of the seven eligible players didn’t want to play in it (‘Too much of a letdown’…‘My back hurts’…’Too much homework’). Ardith Lonnon played, beat her opponents in three well-played, I’m-taking-this-seriously matches. She was seen shortly afterwards wearing a nice new USTTA sweater and a smile. Said, ‘This time when I call my father, I finally can say I won something.’

            Since the Pan American Games would be played Corbillon-Cup style for the women with the doubles being very important, and since the rules for these Team Trials provided the possibility of selecting a fourth player so as to make the best possible doubles pairing for our Team (Insook/Angie? Insook/Kasia?) USTTA officials had perhaps both before and after considered this move, but decided not to pursue it—one reason possibly being that Alice has the next best singles record on the Team to Insook in international competition. Of course the Pan Am Games is really an important opportunity for us—a gold medal is within reach and could be a big thing for American table tennis. So I suggest the players work on women’s doubles at the two Team-training-sessions prior to the Games—it could make a big difference.

            My overall feelings during these Trials was that it is a wonderful thing to be affiliated with the Olympics, to have training sessions, the use of the U.S. Olympic Training Center facilities, the National Sports Festival, the Pan Am and Olympic Games. I wish it had all been there when I started playing, but at least it’s here now for all of us to enjoy. It was a pleasure staying at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Thanks to Bill and Sarah Haid, and to everyone who had a hand in organizing, sponsoring, or running this event. It ran marvelously smoothly, thanks to the well-planned organization. I loved every minute of my stay, and I think the others felt the same way.” [So, Shazz, maybe you’ll want the “Olympic Glory” poster?]