In late April, Prep Rally brought you the story of the forthcoming U.S. Olympic women's table tennis team, a group comprised entirely of Asian American teens from California. Now it has emerged that the most highly regarded of that trio was first discovered and championed by a man who has made his name and fortune almost as far away from sports as possible: Legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, and later picked up by Off the Bench and other outlets, America's top-ranked table tennis star, 16-year-old Ariel Hsing, has known Buffett since she was nine, when the investor mogul faced off against the ping pong phenom at a company event.
Hsing is now the champion of the North American Table Tennis trials, and enters the Olympics as one of America's best chances for a medal in the event in years, even if she will still be considered a bit of a long shot because of her age and general lack of international experience.
For Hsing, a longtime relationship with Buffett has proved incredibly influential. The California native who attends San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian School refers to Buffett as "Uncle Warren" and said that the billionaire's influence on her life had inspired her to change her future academic interests from medicine to business. Her relationship with Buffett also opened doors to meet other business luminaries including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, another famous table tennis player who was summarily dispatched by an 11-year-old Hsing at a Berkshire Hathaway event. Buffett even went so far as to claim that Gates' "manhood was challenged" when Hsing defeated him.
"The luckiest moment of my life was meeting Uncle Warren [Buffett] and Uncle Bill [Gates]," Hsing told the Journal.
Indeed, making those kind of connections before Hsing has even applied to college could make life much easier for Hsing, not that she necessarily needs the help. The teenager reportedly boasts impressive grades at Valley Christian and has her future priorities straight; right now, she's worried about the SATs first and ping pong second, even though she's fewer than three months away from her first Olympics. Those priorities have long been engrained in Hsing's psyche because of her parents' influence; they told Ariel Hsing that she would have to stop playing table tennis if her grades dropped from all A's to B's.
When she does get to London, Hsing will have at least one very friendly face there. Buffett wrote the teen in September to promise he would watch her when she reached the Olympics, whether that came in 2012 or 2016.
Now the world knows that Olympic berth will come in 2012, completing a premonition about the budding star that Buffett first proclaimed when she was just 9 years old.
"She's a killer," says Buffett, a ping-pong enthusiast who first met Hsing when she was 9. "I knew right away she had the potential to be great because she had this determination. There was no doubt in my mind she was going to put in the hours."