Champion Sol Schiff in his prime in the 30's

A former world ping pong champion named Sol Schiff, but known as Mr. Table Tennis, died three weeks ago at 94. He won the US men’s singles championship at 16 and then the world’s singles title in 1937, and the doubles title in 1938.

Schiff beat back opponents with a ripping, no-spin forehand. “When he hit the ball, you could hardly tell the difference between the time it came off his racket and hit the other side of the table,” said Dean Johnson, who played with Schiff in exhibition matches in the 1950s and ’60s. “It was like one sound, unreturnable.”

Titles notwithstanding, Schiff could not earn a living playing the game. He started a business distributing table tennis equipment throughout the East Coast. He also stayed active in promoting the sport, leading to his election as president of the USATT in 1976. During his 10 years as president, table tennis becomes eligible to be in the Olympics.

It saddens me that an athlete can be the best in the world and not earn any money from this skill. Am I getting too commercial and crude? I remember Bobby Riggs had the same complaint in tennis that there was no money in it, when he was young, and now champions make millions routinely. I wonder if this is still true for ping pong. It still is for squash. No TV rights to sell, no bucks to the best.

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