1952 — The Year Grandpa Beat Three World Champions

Part 1 of a personal project to learn more about my grandfather’s years as an international table tennis star

Michael Tang
Jan 14, 2017 · 5 min read

Fig. 1 — “Sih Su Cho making a characteristic forehand smash.”

My grandfather, Sih Su Cho, was a world-renowned table tennis player in the early 1950s, winning medals at the World Championships and Asian Championships while representing Hong Kong.

Later in life he would rarely talk about these accomplishments. In fact, I can’t remember a single conversation when he talked about it. He didn’t want the attention on him. Instead, he seemed to focus all of his energies spoiling his grandchildren (no complaints here!). Family meant more to him than anything else.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt compelled to research about grandpa’s table tennis career and find out exactly what the extent of his achievements were. I will write about what I was able to learn, but first I will share a tidbit that shows what kind of grandfather he was.

The Perfect Strawberry Milkshake

For a number of years, my grandparents split time between living in Hong Kong and with us in Canada. While here, part of grandpa’s doting on me included making sure I ate fruit every night. He didn’t miss a single day. Some time after dinner and before bed he would bring a plate of fruit up to my room, everything peeled and nicely sliced.

If it wasn’t a plate of fruit, then it was a hand-made (no blender) strawberry milkshake. This is definitely the proper way to make a strawberry milkshake. A blender pulverizes everything and it’s more like a smoothie. Grandpa would throw the strawberries into a large mug and break them down using a spoon. This extracted a good amount of juice but also allowed for chunks of strawberry to be left over. The chunks were what I loved most about this milkshake. He got to know exactly what sized chunks I preferred. Pour in some skim milk, add some sugar, shake it all up, and you have a perfect strawberry milkshake. I ate it with a spoon until all the strawberry chunks were gone and then chugged down the strawberry infused milk that remained in the mug.

I loved this milkshake and he knew I loved it so he made sure he perfected it for me.

I think this milkshake anecdote reveals two important characteristics of my grandfather’s approach to the things he cared about, characteristics that undoubtedly contributed to his table tennis success: He wasn’t afraid to try things, and he paid attention to the finest details. Nobody taught him the recipe to that strawberry milkshake. He decided to just try something different. When he saw that there was potential, he kept tweaking the details of the recipe and procedure until he achieved the perfect strawberry milkshake by his grandson’s standards.

A Self-Taught Table Tennis Master

With table tennis, my mother informs me that grandpa never had a coach. He taught himself. This must have involved lots of trying things, lots of practice, and lots of adjusting of details in order to get better and better, just like the strawberry milkshake.

Fig. 2 — Sih Su Cho demonstrating table tennis techniques using a “penholder” grip. Without a coach, he had to rely on a lot of self-teaching to develop his techniques.
Fig. 3 — An advertisement for a table tennis bat suited to Sih Su Cho’s playing style. The handle is very short to accommodate the “penholder” grip he used. There is rubber on just one side of the bat because he never hit the ball with the other side. Modern rules require rubber on both sides of the bat, and many current “penholder” style players strike the ball using both sides.

Being able to teach things to oneself is one of the most important skills an individual must learn as early as possible in their lifetime. This is a goal I try to push my students closer towards each year.

1952 — The Pinnacle Year?

All of that practice and being attentive to detail paid off in grand style in 1952.

FEBRUARYWorld Championships Team Bronze

In February of 1952, grandpa represented Hong Kong at the World Championships which were held in Bombay that year. In singles, he made it to the 4th round, losing there to the eventual silver medalist. However, in the men’s team competition he helped Hong Kong earn a bronze medal.

Fig. 4 — Hong Kong men’s team (year unknown). Sih Su Cho is second from the right.

AUGUST-SEPTEMBERTouring With The Champs

During August-September of 1952, former singles world champions Johnny Leach (1949 and 1951) and Richard Bergmann (1937, 1939, 1948, and 1950) went on a tour of east Asia. My grandfather and his doubles partner, Fu Chi Fang, joined them for part of their trip. The four ping pong stars put on many exhibitions during this tour.

Grandpa was able to beat both of these former world champions on various occasions during the tour, including beating Leach at Hong Kong’s Southorn playground. During a visit to Hong Kong a couple of years ago, I played some pick-up basketball at Southorn without the faintest idea that, six decades earlier, my grandfather was showing off his ping pong skills against a former two-time world champion.

Fig. 5 — Sih Su Cho and two-time former world champion Johnny Leach at Southorn playground in Hong Kong
Fig. 6 — Johnny Leach and Richard Bergmann, six singles world titles between them, lose in an exhibition match to Sih Su Cho and Fu Chi Fang during a visit to Singapore. Each H.K. star beat each English star in singles; the English pair avoided the sweep by winning the doubles match.

NOVEMBER — Triple Gold, Silver At Inaugural Asian Championships

The inaugural Asian Table Tennis Championships were held in Singapore in November of 1952. In singles, my grandfather would make it all the way to the finals where he went up against the reigning world champion, Hiroji Satoh of Japan, who won the worlds earlier in February:

Fig. 7 — Snapshot from the Feb. 1953 issue of ‘Table Tennis’ magazine by the English Table Tennis Association (ETTA), reporting on the 1952 Asian Championships

In addition to his singles gold, grandpa and Fu Chi Fang won the doubles gold and also the men’s team gold. Grandpa also won silver in mixed doubles with partner Wong Bik Yiu (this pair would later win mixed doubles gold at the 1957 Asian games).

Fig. 8 — Sih Su Cho with some of his trophies.

The Mystery Of 1953

1952 was a successful year in table tennis for my grandfather. Some had him ranked 10th in the world, and that was before he beat reigning world champion and #1 ranked Satoh.

But was it his pinnacle year?

In my research, I was quite surprised to find out that he didn’t compete in the 1953 World Championships, which were held just 4 months after his Asian games triumph. He would presumably have had a decent chance to go far in that tournament.

I hope to write Part 2 after I find out why he did not enter.

Michael Tang

Written by

High school math, science, physics, and special education resource teacher and basketball coach

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