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No Soft Side in Opposing Sponge Paddles

Neville Elder/Corbis

Watch the newsreel below and observe a fabled minute in the life and times of Marty Reisman, who died on Friday at age 81. It is 1949 and the scene is Britain's famous Wembley Stadium. Twenty thousand eyes in the darkness are focused on tiny rhythmic oscillations of white in a pool of light in the middle of the arena. They're made by a table-tennis ball crisscrossing the net at phenomenal speed. The crowd expects the exchanges to end in yet another triumph for an elegant Hungarian player, Viktor Barna, at 37 a five-time world champion. The only thing keeping him from a sixth world singles title is a razor-thin, cheeky 19-year-old from New York's...

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