Of all the Olympic sports, table tennis is the one that appears to offer a sliver of hope to the everyman whose dreams of Games glory never got anywhere close to reality.
Few of us harbor any genuine belief that we could take on Usian Bolt over 100 meters or go stroke for stroke with Michael Phelps, but every paddle-wielding hack who has conquered a handful of drinking buddies at a backyard barbeque thinks he could become a ping pong contender.
In reality, international table tennis is a world removed from even the most competitive of games in frat houses or dive bars across the country, and the average hopeful who pits his forehand slice against that of an expert would be destroyed as surely as if he took on Kobe Bryant in a game of pick-up.
But, according to Timothy Wang, the United States' only male representative at this summer's Olympics, a few simple steps can instantly supercharge the game of any table tennis enthusiast.
It won't turn you into an Olympian, but these guidelines might just help you beat the annoying loudmouth who always dominates on the old chipboard table in his mom's basement and then talks smack about it.
• Service with a smile: As it is the start of each point, it goes without saying that a devastating serve can be mightily effective. "It is probably the biggest thing for recreational players who want to improve," Wang says. "The ability to pick up free points by having an unreturnable serve can make a huge difference."
But instead of trying to develop your own variation, head to a local club to pick up a few tips from seasoned players. Wang trains at the ICC club in San Jose, having temporarily relocated from his home in Houston to prepare for the Olympics. However, there are clubs all around the nation, many of them affiliated to governing body USATT.
• Happy feet: Forget about the stuttering steps of the amateurs, elite players such as Wang have exceptional footwork that allows them to cover the court at rapid speed. While the pros practice footwork drills and use plyometric and cardio training, anyone can seriously improve their performance by moving to the ball more efficiently.
"Good movement and recovery is vitally important," Wang says. "Players can watch videos online to see how the best players move their feet and get back into position afterward."
• First strike: Table tennis is primarily an attacking game and the small surface space and high velocity of the ball dramatically favors the player able to get on the offensive first. Following up a serve or return with a well-placed topspin drive can either win a point outright or set up an easy kill.
"A good first attack is the way to go," Wang says. "Obviously it is important to have consistency, but if you can be positive it puts your opponent under a lot of pressure."
Wang, 20, visited the Yahoo! Sports offices in Santa Monica on Wednesday, before he heads to London next week. Due to the incredible strength of the players from China, Japan, South Korea and Germany, a run to the last 16 of the men's singles would be a superb result for him.
On a table provided by his sponsor Old Spice, Wang put me through my paces as my Yahoo! colleagues looked on in the office recreation room.
Even though table tennis was my sport as a youngster – I won the Australian Open Under-20 singles and doubles in 1996 – the sport has improved drastically over the past decade. I was able to compete with Wang in a few rallies, but his mastery of extreme spin from both forehand and backhand, as well as a remarkable repertoire of high-spin serves, meant there was a huge gulf in class between us.
Which is why he will be the one competing at the Olympic Games, and I will be the one writing about it. But at least I picked up a few tips …
Other popular Olympics content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Elite Athlete Workouts video: Michael Phelps increases his muscle-building workout
• Kobe: In game between 2012 U.S. basketball squad and Dream Team, 'we'd pull it out'
• Olympians featured nude in ESPN’s 'Body Issue'