06 Mar 2019

Members of the International Table Tennis Federation since the Foundation Meeting was held at 28 Kensington Court, London on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th December 1926, there could be no greater historical setting for the Liebherr 2019 World Championships than the Hungarian capital city of Budapest.

The country has realized many of the greatest names in the sport; it is in those footsteps that the modern day Magyars, who will enter the arena on Sunday 21st April, tread. In many eyes they will tread in the footsteps of the greatest of all, the man who changed ping pong to table tennis.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Most notably 90 years ago when as today, Budapest staged the tournament, an 18 year old from the host city made his debut and it was some debut. Alongside Sandor Glancz, Istvan Kelen, Zoltan Mechlovits and Miklos Szabados he was a member of the gold medal winning men’s team, before partnering Miklos Szabados to men’s doubles success.

The name was Victor Barna.

Overall at World Championships between 1929 and 1954 he won no less 40 medals, including the men’s singles title five times. Just think what the sum total might have been; owing to World War Two, no World Championships were staged between 1940 and 1946.

Victor Barna became the figurehead for a country that was peerless. Significantly, the first nine World Championships were dominated by Hungarians, in addition to Victor Barna, Roland Jacobi, Zoltan Mechlovits and Miklos Szabados all secured the top step of the podium; somewhat ironically, the only occasion during that period when it didn’t happen was in 1929 in Budapest, England’s Fred Perry emerged the winner.

Later in the tennis arena, the man from Stockport in what is now Greater Manchester, was to win both the United States Open and Wimbledon three times, the Australian and French Opens once each.

Similarly, in the women’s singles event, Hungary was the supreme force.  Maria Mednyanzky won the women’s singles event in the first five editions; she was followed by Anna Sipos who won the next two.

Later in 1947, there was more Hungarian success. Gizi Farkas secure the first of her three consecutive titles, before in 1953 Ferenc Sido, became the last player to win the men’s singles title using a racket covered with just pimpled rubber.

Fast forward to modern times and the legacy of Victor Barna lived on. In 1975 in Calcutta, Istvan Jonyer won the men’s singles title prior to 1979 in Pyongyang when alongside Gabor Gergely, Tibor Klampar, Tibor Kreisz and Janos Takacs, Hungary clinched the men’s team title. Memorable, most certainly, they beat China in the group stage and then in the final.

Since those days the Hungarian trophy cabinet has not been paved with gold, the most recent medal being women’s doubles bronze in 1995 in Tianjin, secured by Csilla Batorfi and Krisztina Toth; however, taking into account both World Championships and World Team Championships, the record is still quite staggering.

Overall the account reads 202 medals (68 gold, 58.5 silver, 75.5 bronze), only China is better with 395 medals (140 gold, 102 silver and 153 bronze).

Moreover, if Hungary is to knocked off second place it will need Japan, currently in third place, to press the accelerator; their record reads 154 medals (48 gold, 34 silver, 72 bronze).

Now Japan has some fine young players but if they are going to catch Hungary it will have be their children who achieve the feat; I reckon the Magyars are more than safe in second spot till 2052!

Flying through the air executing the legendary backhand, the image of Victor Barna remains to the this day, the most famous photograph in the history of table tennis (Photo: courtesy of ITTF Museum)
2019 World Table Tennis Championships Victor Barna

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