TIMOTHY WANG knows the question and has an answer ready: Yes, table tennis is a sport—and he has the physique to prove it.
After a disappointing exit in the preliminary round of the 2012 Olympics, Wang, a two-time U.S. national champion in singles, went looking for a new edge. He found it in the gym with a former NFL player turned trainer who made his name working with more mainstream pro athletes. That group includes Wang's new workout buddy, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"Tim is like a celebrity to Kirk," says the trainer, Corey Bridges, who adds that the QB and the other athletes in his Norcross, Ga., gym marvel that a guy who plays what some consider a rec-room pastime works as hard as they do. When Wang and Bridges hooked up in January, Bridges, who had stints as a wide receiver for the Vikings, Bears and Browns, had no experience with table tennis. Studying video of Wang's motion, he decided to home in on the shoulders, legs and core. When table tennis players swing, they rotate their hips (in or out, depending on the shot) and use their arm in a slingshot motion.
Four days a week Wang trains with Bridges, who was recommended by U.S. Olympic hurdler Terrence Trammell, a mutual acquaintance. The most helpful exercise Wang has done since starting with Bridges is "big red." Bridges stacks a sled with 90 pounds or more, and Wang drags it in different directions, helping to stabilize his core, essential for balance. "Anytime they get on the [big red], they don't leave happy," Bridges says.
Wang, the 267th-ranked player in the world, will attempt to play his way into Rio at the North America Olympic qualifier in Markham, Ont., in April. He says his strength and core stability have improved since joining Bridges in the gym. "I just want to do the best for the country," Wang says. "I just want to do better."
In February, Cousins took on Wang's serve. On the first try, Cousins whiffed. On the next two, Cousins got a paddle on the ball but with ugly results. On the fourth attempt, Cousins managed a return. Wang fired a backhand right past him. Cousins could only laugh.
Presented by edge
Olympian Tim Wang and trainer Corey Bridges offer tips to take your game out of the garage and into the real world.
[This article consists of 3 illustrations. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Face a wall while someone behind you throws a Reaction Ball at it. The ball will jump in different directions, and you have to catch it.
Put 90 to 100 pounds on a sled and drag it for 30 yards forward, 30 backward and 30 to each side.
Have a friend stand on the other side of a table and consistently hit 100 to 200 balls at you, in different directions.
For more athlete training profiles and tips, go to SI.com/edge
JOOLA USA (WANG)
BIG RETURN After disappointment in London, Wang is aiming for Rio.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARTIN LAKSMAN