But, still, this was table tennis. Did people take this seriously?
As the Olympics just proved, many people do, including the Hsus. They moved to Rockville to be near the Maryland Table Tennis Center, the first and perhaps best-known training center of its kind in the eastern United States.
During the school year, Nathan now spends two to three hours a day, six days a week, training in the warehouse-sized facility, which was recently expanded and refurbished when his parents spent $100,000 to buy into the operation. Nathan’s father, Hans, an investment banker, is now doing the commuting to his job in New York.
“Nathan played all sports and he loved them all,” his mother, Wen Hsu, said. “But, then we realized that there was a formal training for this and people actually take it seriously.”
In his six years at the center, Nathan has grown into one of the nation’s top teenage players. On Aug. 1,he won a bronze medal in the Under-18 division at the AAU Junior Olympics in Houston, where his brother, John, won a silver in the Under-22 division. Last summer, Nathan was the nation’s top Under-16 player.
To step inside the Maryland Table Tennis Center is to banish the image of kids casually swatting a Ping-Pong ball in a suburban basement or a YMCA. At the center’s summer camp, 60 children, including Hsu, train for as long as seven hours a day.
The converted flooring warehouse sits high above bustling Frederick Avenue. Its 16 tables are in use simultaneously, so many balls scattered about the premises that they are scooped up with pool skimmers. About 90 percent of the campers are of Asian descent.
But this is still a summer camp. A list of rules hangs on a pole in the middle of the playing area, instructing players not to use foul language and to keep their hands to themselves. In the front of the center is a row of lunch tables adjacent to a set of storage cubbies. Air-conditioned and comfortable, the center features a red-padded floor imported from China as part of the recent expansion.
Along with mastering his on-court game, Hsu works once a week with a physical trainer. He lifts weights, but the majority of his attention is focused on his long legs.
To be an elite player, he must be quick enough to move across the table and away from it to track down opponents’ shots. His legs also must be strong enough to power his strokes, especially his forehand serve.
During the school year, Hsu follows his daily training with homework. He is enrolled in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at Richard Montgomery High, a school he chose because of that program. He usually gets home about 7 p.m. and goes to bed at midnight.