At the highest level of play, the table tennis table seems
too small to contain the tendencies of its players. Some
apply spin to the little plastic sphere so that it is sent
hopping, on a single bounce and in the opposite direction,
by a distance exceeding the width of the table itself. Others
deliver a slam so powerful that retrieval of the ball, if
not returned - which it occasionally, and seemingly miraculously,
is - would require many minutes and a full trot across
the fieldhouse were it not for the Games' clever strategy
of always having additional balls on hand.
By the time the finals of the men's 40-49 competition
began, the crowd had grown accustomed to these outsized
feats of legerdemain and strategy. Still, they thrilled
to the ebb and flow of the match between Dan Kutzer, of
Team Florida, and Alfons Schulze-Boing, of Germany.
These players are well-matched, and a study in contrasts.
Schulze-Boing is more of a defensive player, while Kutzer
risks more slams and other incursions across the net. Schulze-Boing
delivers his backhanded-spin serve quickly and unobtrusively,
while Kutzer's delivery of his European-derived high-toss
serve is rhythm-busting and exaggerated.
Kutzer won the first game rather handily by a score of
21-12, but Schulze-Boing fought back into the match with
a 21-17 second game win. In the third game, Kutzer went
out to an early lead, but went into a bit of a shell protecting
it. As Schulze-Boing scratched his way back, Kutzer made
an unforced error, and he yelled at himself, "Come on Dan,
bear down." And he did so, hanging on and winning off the
strength of his outlandish serve, 21-17. Even in the well
air-conditioned fieldhouse, both players were drenched in
sweat. Schulze-Boing, who does not speak English, crossed
immediately to the other side of the table to congratulate
Kutzer with a warm, wordless handshake.
Schulze-Boing received a kidney transplant in 1993 and
can now add this silver medal to the ones he has already
won in Sydney and Budapest. Kutzer received a kidney in
July 1999, and just find out about the Transplant Games
two or three months ago when he noticed a sign about it
in his doctor's office. This is his first Games, and he
was thrilled to be a gold medalist in his first attempt.
Kutzer began playing as a pre-teen when he participated
in tournaments around the country. Schulze-Boing started
playing about 25 years ago, and is currently president of
the Table Tennis Association in his area of northeast Germany.
New kidneys, and superior table tennis, are in their bloodstream.
A rematch looms.