Connie Sweeris, Ping-Pong Diplomat

A 1971 table tennis competition between the U.S. and China laid the groundwork for a foreign relations breakthrough

In April of 1971, at the invitation of the Chinese government, a nine-person United States table tennis team visited China for a series of exhibition matches. (Associated Press)

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And just how good were they?

The Chinese table tennis players were very skilled. Their men’s and women’s teams were just getting back from the world competition in 1971 in Japan after the Cultural Revolution in China. They were considered to be some of the best table tennis players in the world.

What kind of reactions did you and your teammates get from the Chinese people during your sightseeing excursions?

The Chinese people looked at us with curiosity. A lot of the younger people of China probably had never seen any Americans. Glenn Cowan, one of our male table tennis players, wore his hair long. They sure were amazed with that!

At the time, did you have any idea of how important your trip would be to opening up future U.S.-China relations?

At the time we were in China, we knew our trip was pretty newsworthy because of all the reporters wanting our stories. However, I do not think any of us realized the history we were making and how important it would be to future relations between the U.S. and China. President Nixon went to China a year later and China later gained a seat in the United Nations.

How’s your serve these days?

My table tennis serve is rusty. I am currently retired from most competitive play.

Are you still involved in table tennis?

I am still involved in table tennis by helping my husband, Dell, run the 2012 and 2014 U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our hope is that we will raise the level of knowledge of table tennis to the average spectator and demonstrate what a great sport it is!


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