Table tennis: sport served as a ticket to the world

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She was the princess of the Dunedin table tennis royals – and now Yvonne Fogarty is back in action.

The former New Zealand champion chats with sports editor Hayden Meikle about the sport that has opened up her world.

The Haig brothers in rugby, cricketers McCullum and Blair, Yvette and Roy Williams, and the multi-talented Turners.

Otago sport has produced many prominent families, but it’s hard to believe they had the impact on their sport that the Fogarty family had on table tennis.

It’s a classic New Zealand story: a working-class family of 11, a railroad worker father, a full-time mother with household chores, a ping-pong table set up in a shed next to the greenhouse and a factory line from Otago and New Zealand. champions.

“Wild Bill”, Patriarch Fogarty, who died last year at the age of 88, started his grade A career in Dunedin in 1938 and was still playing 50 years later.

Sister Margaret became Otago’s first national singles champion in 1939 and Bill won her own New Zealand title in 1948.

From the same generation, Doreen and Phyllis also played for Otago.

Then Bill and Audrey started their one-family club and Joan, Maree, Yvonne, Kevin, John, Terry, Barbara, Catherine and Kerry started racking up the Otago titles.

Stars, all of them, but everyone agrees that Yvonne had something special.

She was the precocious schoolgirl, snatched from table tennis in Dunedin at 15 to represent New Zealand at the 1967 world championships in Sweden.

She would later win two singles titles in New Zealand and wear the black blazer as the national representative in Singapore, Nagoya, Cardiff, Yokohama, Melbourne and Calcutta.

Then, at age 25, Fogarty was married and started a family and his years of table tennis were over.

But when a sport is in your blood – and table tennis surely runs through every Fogarty’s veins – it can be hard to say goodbye.

Fogarty has returned to the top of club competition in Dunedin this year and, at 57, is equal with players decades younger.

“I guess it’s mostly to keep fit,” Fogarty tells me in the kitchen of the Leith Valley house where she and her husband Tony have lived for 20 years.

“But it’s also… I don’t know. It’s pretty hard to play a game that you used to play so intensely and enjoy it when you don’t win.

“But I love it. You forget how nice it is to compete for every point and feel the thrill of a good shot.”

Fogarty last competed at the National Championships in 2001, and his return to competitive play will not involve any major tournaments at this point.

This means that there will be no opportunity to add to the spoils of medals, certificates, trophies and 25 national titles that she has accumulated since 1965.

Success came naturally to Fogarty when she followed her father’s lead and started table tennis in the 1950s.

But there was no silver spoon for the third of nine children spread over 20 years.

“Life was very different in South Dunedin in the 1950s than it is today,” she recalls.

“You know, we didn’t have a TV and we didn’t even have a car in the beginning.

“Dad loved all sports, but table tennis really became his passion, and I guess I grew up immersed in the sport.

“We have had an incredible opportunity to be successful at table tennis, thanks to the truly supportive family environment created by mum and dad.”

Bill and Audrey Fogarty bought the family home in Oxford St and turned the old stables into a shed which in turn became a sort of table tennis sanctuary.

There were waxed floors and decent lighting, and the table was neatly placed next to the compost bin.

People came from around Dunedin to walk the way back and play Bill or one of the kids.

In time, the Fogartys would form their own club called, and rightly so, United.

There were early mornings and long drives to tournaments around the South Island, and little Yvonne Fogarty was taken to her first national tournament at the age of 5.

In 1966, Yvonne won the South Island junior title and her father Bill won the senior singles.

It was a pretty good story.

But the real excitement came when the starched New Zealand Table Tennis Federation blazers informed a 15-year-old Dunedin schoolgirl that she was going to be the fourth member of the New Zealand women’s team to compete in the championships. of the world in Stockholm the following year.

One problem: Fogarty would have to find 500 to finance his trip.

It was a lot of money for anyone in 1966, especially a member of a family who used every penny to feed and clothe nine children.

What happened next reminded Fogarty of the power of community.

A committee was formed, headed by the Mayor of St Kilda.

A fair in Culling Park, a big Christmas raffle and a basketball game between members of an Antarctic ship crew and the Otago Harbor Council, donation of silver coins at the gate, took place .

By the time of the trip to Sweden, 700 had been collected.

“It was remarkable how everyone came together to help,” Fogarty recalled.

“I guess I must have captured the imagination a bit. I was only 15 and a local girl from a big family who had had a bit of success.”

Fogarty went on to represent New Zealand at four World Championships and three Commonwealth Championships.

His best international results have been a team silver medal at the 1971 Commonwealth Championships, a singles bronze medal at the 1973 Commonwealth Championships and a team bronze medal at the impressive Asian Championships in 1974.

Off the table, Fogarty played his part in the unique sporting code known as “ping pong diplomacy”.

From 1971, communist China and capitalist America used sport to rebuild relations that had not been so strained as broken since 1949.

A friendship had unexpectedly developed between the best American player Glenn Cowan, a Californian with long hair, and the Chinese world champion Zhuang Zedong.

Their report so impressed Chairman Mao Zedong that he ordered his foreign ministry to invite the US team to China.

Soon many western nations were involved.

A Chinese team toured New Zealand in 1972, played a match in Christchurch which was broadcast live on television, and was greeted in Dunedin by billboards in the newspapers proclaiming “THE CHINESE ARE HERE. “.

In the China-South Island clash, played at the Otago University Union, Fogarty won the home team’s only match, beating Chang Tsui-chih 17-21, 24-22, 21-18.

“They knew this was my hometown and they let me win. It was a little embarrassing.”

Fogarty was then part of the New Zealand team invited to China in 1974.

She fondly remembers the visit.

“We were treated like royalty everywhere we went and had these great meetings with the most senior officials.

“We were given copies of the Little Red Book, we were shown all the sites and we played many games in front of 18,000 to 19,000 people.”

Fogarty returned to China in 1975, when she had just taken a teaching post in Auckland.

She and three national teammates spent six weeks training in Canton and Fogarty received a personal trainer and interpreter.

The coach, a woman, then wrote to Fogarty asking for sponsorship to move to New Zealand.

“This big letter arrived and of course it was entirely in Chinese.

I took it to my local fish and chips and the people there translated it for me.

“My trainer was asking for money and help to come and live in New Zealand.

“There were all kinds of forms she was asking me to fill out and I just wasn’t comfortable with that. I felt like I had let her down somehow.”

Fogarty now works with international students at Otago Polytechnic and believes her experiences in China have helped her understand young people studying in another country.

Otago table tennis celebrated its 75th year last year, but celebrates this milestone in July.

Registration for the celebrations ends June 12.

Yvonne fogarty

Age: 57 years old.

Family: Husband Tony Eyre, children Sarah, Theresa, Michael and Daniel.

New Zealand teams: World Championships 1967, 1971, 1973, 1975; Commonwealth Championships 1971, 1973, 1975; Asian Championships 1974; vs. Australia 1969, 1975; against China 1972; against Japan 1973; University tour in Australia 1970.

New Zealand titles: four open (singles 1969, 1974; doubles 1974, mixed doubles 1978), eight under 18 (singles 1966, 1968, 1969, doubles 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, mixed doubles 1968), seven under 16 years old (singles 1965, 1966, 1967, doubles 1965, 1966, mixed doubles 1966, 1967), three over 35 (singles 1992, 1997, mixed doubles 1992), three over 45 (singles 1997, 1998, mixed doubles 2000).

Other accomplishments: New Zealand Player of the Year 1969, 1973; inducted into the New Zealand Table Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.


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