A Smashing Success

schmitt shoots!!
Gurhan Gunduz G'99 is a skilled table tennis player who competed last spring at a national tournament in Houston. A native of Turkey, Gunduz is a doctoral student at the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The small ball flies back and forth across the net, a pale orange blur against the deep green of the tabletop. Gurhan Gunduz G’99 steps back, paddle in hand, and deftly returns Howard Chen’s serve before edging up to the table. When the orange blur comes back his way, Gunduz seemingly catches it with his paddle and pushes it over the net, dropping it precisely where Chen has no chance of reaching it.
      Gunduz and Chen represented SU in the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Table Tennis Tournament last April at the University of Houston. In February, Gunduz took first place in the regional ACUI competition at SU.
      A doctoral candidate in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, Gunduz has been interested in computers since high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Ege University in his native Turkey before working as a research assistant for a network management group. He came to SU to earn a master’s degree in 1998, after winning a scholarship through a national competition in Turkey.
      “When I was an undergraduate, the Internet was not as widely used,” he says. “I didn’t even know how to e-mail.” Gunduz watched as Internet technology improved and the World Wide Web gained its explosive popularity. He’s beginning doctoral work now in Internet technologies, with an eye toward improving distance learning programs that allow students to earn degrees without stepping foot in an actual classroom.
      His love of table tennis reaches back to high school as well. He joined the school’s team, coached by a Turkish language teacher who happened to be a professional table tennis player. He credits the coach’s training with giving him the foundation to become a champion. “We started by learning techniques, rather than playing,” he recalls. “For the first month we bounced the ball on our paddles to learn control. We played against a wall to learn the exact movement of the ball, how you hold your hand, the forehand and backhand movements. We didn’t get to play on tables for a month.” Without this foundation, Gunduz says, he may never have progressed beyond the level of a casual player.
      So what is the key to becoming a table tennis champion? “Movement is very important, and the position of the legs,” he says. “Most amateurs stand in one place to play. People ask me, ‘Is table tennis tiring?’ I say, ‘Of course.’”
      When Gunduz came to SU, he scouted the table tennis players who gathered as part of the University’s club sports program at Archbold Gym, but was disappointed to learn the sport does not enjoy the same popularity in the United States as it does overseas. “It can’t be like basketball or other organized sports,” he says. “There just is not much interest in or support for table tennis.” Even so, he competed in several team and individual competitions, leading up to the ACUI tournament and the finals in Houston.
      Chen, a junior in the broadcast journalism program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has practiced and played with Gunduz for about a year. “I’m still amazed at how good he is,” Chen says. “It’s hard to find people who are really serious about table tennis. A lot of people think they’re good, but they don’t realize what a competitive sport this is.” The two-day competition in Houston is pure bliss for the serious table tennis player, he says. “You get some great days where you can focus on table tennis and nothing else. And you get to play with a lot of great players.”
      Because practice is subordinate to classes and related work, Gunduz says table tennis will likely remain only a hobby for him. Any sport requires practice to reach new levels, he says, but it’s crucial to maintain skills in the fast-paced game of table tennis. “I wish I could play every day, but that’s not possible,” he muses. To which Chen adds, “If Gurhan could play every day, who knows? He’d be very scary.”
                                                                                                                                                              —GARY PALLASSINO

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