Olympic Rules for Ping Pong & How Table Tennis is Played

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Official Olympic Rules for Ping Pong & How Table Tennis is Played

Any ping pong competition is great to watch.

And one of the most important and intense competitions that you should not miss must be the global race for Ping pong in the Olympics.

The question now is what Olympic rules for ping pong is? Let’s find out here.

Table Tennis at the Olympics

Table tennis for single player
Table tennis is available for single play

At the Olympics, there are two types of table tennis: team and individual.

In a team event, the matches are a best-of-five series. But in singles, they are a best-of-seven matchup.

The first time that table tennis appeared at the Olympics was in 1988, where it was held in Seoul, South Korea.

The peak of success was when the Chinese team won all three categories: men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles.

However, at Olympics 2008 in Beijing, this game changed with doubles players becoming a team of men and women.

At the Olympics, China took the lead with 28 gold medals among 53 medals, followed by South Korea at three gold medals within 18 medals.

Olympic Ping Pong Scoring

Table tennis international team event double player
Ping pong is also available for team play

You might now be wondering how to score in table tennis.

Players win one point if their opponents fail to use the racket to hit the ball over the table net and the table on the other side.

The winner is the one who gets 11 points, and ahead of the opponent for 2 points at the least.

When both players get 10 points, the player needs two more points to get the victory.

For men and women single play, the full matches are seven games, and this number for events team play of men and women is five games.

In the team game, the group that won three matches beforehand is also the match-winner.

The start score is 0-0, with the first service carried out by the server.

Each team or player will serve the two points within the row before the other team or player gets served.

The servers must have their ball touching their table side once before bouncing around or over the net and touching the table on their opponent’s side. 

A let serve when the ball touches the net’s assembly, including the post, clamps, and net itself.

However, it still touches the server side first before touching the second bounce at the competitor’s side.

For this service, the player has to replay the services without changing the overall score.

The server has no bound for the let serves within a row.

The receiver’s target is to return the ball around or over the net and make sure the ball first bounces on the server’s tableside.

In case he or she fails to do so, the server will get the point.

Otherwise, the server then has to hit the ball again or over the net and first bounces on the receiver table side. 

Unable to do so, the server will lose a point to the receiver.

The gameplay continues in that manner to the point when the receiver or server cannot legally return their ball.

For each successful ball hit, the player gets one point to his or her overall score.

When one player gets ten points, each player only has one serve until one player gets the win in a game.

With basic rules in table tennis as mentioned above, in the next part, we will talk about all the equipment you need for a play.

Table Tennis Equipment

To ensure the official Olympic ping pong rules are followed, the specific requirements for equipment must be strictly matched with the International Table Tennis Federation standards. 

Although the different tournament levels might have various regulations, the under specifications apply for Table tennis at the Olympics.

1. Table Tennis Table

There are three different types of table tennis tables: outdoor, indoor, and official competition.

  • Outdoor tables can be used inside as well, but they often lack protection against the sun and the rain.
  • Indoor tables can handle more wear and tear than outside ones, but they still can’t handle a lot of abuse.
  • Competition tables, however, are the most durable and heavy-duty. They also have fewer disturbances from table vibrations after a hit.

As Olympic rules for ping pong, this game table is rectangular at the size of 2.74 x 1.53m.

Made from fiber wood, the table has two halves. The halves are connected by a hinge in the middle of the table to give it a smooth transition from the playing area to the storage area.

The table surface is in the glossy and dark paint for the matte finish.

And the table border is the line at two centimeters thick, marking the surface for playing.

The net at 15.25 centimeters in height works as the table division, suspended by the table’s two poles.

2. Table Tennis Paddles

A table tennis paddle (or simply ping pong racket) is about 17 cm in length and 15 cm in width and weighs from 70 -100 grams depending on the material.

It is constructed of laminated wood or stiff plastic with a rubber surface on one side.

Paddles are available in different thicknesses and shapes for various playing styles.

The rubber surface in red and black on each side helps players negate and apply the ball spin.

3. Table Tennis Balls

There are two types of ping pong balls; 40mm and 38mm. The 40 mm ball is the standard size that is used in all official games, especially in international tournaments or championships.

The ball is normally in white or orange color. It weighs 2.7 grams before being blown up to its required pressure level which can vary between 0.30-0.58 atmospheres for competitions. For home or recreational use, however, lighter versions of the ball are available which weigh between 0.5-1.0 grams more.

The 38mm ball is less common and can be bought at some sports equipment retailers or online, but it is used primarily for table tennis games that involved young children or beginner players because the lighter weight allows them to hit the ball quicker and easier than with the 40 mm.

Table Tennis Serving Rules

The serving rules allow the receiver to see the ball every time and fairly have the chance to read the ball spin from the server.

With this target, many rules for serving is announced that are:

The server must never hide the ball and let the receiver see the ball throughout and serve.

The server must have the ball above the playing table level and behind the table end line at any server.

The server must throw up the ball vertically at 16cm for the least and then hit the ball down on the table and never hit up way.

In case the umpire doubts any serve is illegal, he warns the server.

And when he finds any serves highly chance of illegal, he might fault the server and give the opponent a point.

Next up on finding the answer to the question of how table tennis is played?

Let’s continue with the ball-hitting method.

Hitting The Ball

The player cannot hit the ball using the fingers that hold the racquet.

And the under wrist of the racquet hand can only contact the ball for one time.

It’s impossible to hit the ball twice using the fingers of the racquet hand and the other hit with the racket.

You can switch the paddle among your hands at one point, which a rare player can do.

Throwing the racket for hitting the ball is not acceptable.

Once you drop the racket, you have to pick it up and hit the ball.

It would be best if you hit the ball with the racket in your hand.

Otherwise, you do not have racket hands anymore.

Towel Off, Rest Periods, And Time-Out

For every 6 points in a match, you can towel off, beginning at 0-0.

At the last game in a match, you can also towel off for the change.

Every player or a team can claim for one timeout of 1 minute for the maximum in a match with T’s signal using their hand.

The game will continue after the player calling for timeout is done or the 1 minute time has passed, whichever event occurs first. 

During the time out, the player has to put the racket on the playing table, except for the umpire acceptance.

Olympic Rules for Ping pong – FAQs

  1. What are the 5 basic rules of table tennis?

    In case you have a passion for table tennis or hope to have a career as a table tennis player, you need to know and understand the most important rules of this game.

    Generally, these rules are easy to remember and carry out as they are quite similar to other sports with racquets.
    Here are the top five basic rules for table tennis.

    1. Always have your Hands away from the Table
    2. For the Serving ball,  you must throw it up for about 15mm
    3. When hitting on the net for the service, you should reserve
    4. You must hold the ball above the table and on a flat Palm
    5. Color of Rubber is only for the opposing player to clarify the expectation of the ball speed for the serve.

  2. How many players in table tennis?

    According to Topend Sports estimates, there are about 300 million people playing table tennis in the world.
    Just after two other popular sports.

    ITTF has 226 national federations. Indeed table tennis has become one of the most popular sports; it is often taught in schools.
    People play regularly in clubs, gymnasiums, sports centers.

  3. Is Ping Pong played to 11 or 21?

    A table tennis match is completed when one of the players scores 11 points first, or if the score is a draw (e.g 10:10), there must be a difference of 2 points to be counted as a win.

    The game was played until 21, but the ITTF changed the rule in 2001.
    The table tennis game has now been played up to 11 points.

  4. Is ping pong an Olympic sport?

    Yes, in 1988 in the capital of South Korea, Table Tennis became an Olympic sport.
    Although, the first World Championships were held in London in 1962.

    Beijing 2008, table tennis included men’s singles, women’s singles and team events.
    Tokyo 2020, the competition will also have a mixed doubles event.


And this is the bottom line of our overview on Olympic rules for ping pong.

Are you willing to start the game now?

We bet that you will give a big yes as every detail we’ve provided is useful to back you up! 

Don’t forget to follow the five basic rules of table tennis for better performance.

Have a good time enjoying the game! Cheer.


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