Dell Sweeris remembers the historic visit of the Chinese table tennis team to the United States in 1972; he was the only American to win an exhibition match. It may have been good sportsmanship on the part of the Chinese, the best players in the world. Opponent Liang Geliang “allowed me to play my best game in order to be able to beat him,” Sweeris said. (The two are shown above, with Sweeris in the foreground.)
It was the era of “pingpong diplomacy.” The U.S. table tennis team traveled to China in 1971, followed by President Richard Nixon’s visit the following year. A few months later the Chinese team toured America.
Sweeris got to know several Chinese players, including Zhang Xielin, whom he calls “a legend in table tennis.” Many years later, at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Zhang recognized Sweeris and tapped him on the shoulder. “That would be like sitting at Yankee Stadium, getting ready to watch the World Series, and having Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth tap you on the shoulder,” Sweeris said.
Sweeris and his wife, Connie (a 1971 team member), are part of a delegation going to China in mid-December for the 40th anniversary of pingpong diplomacy.