Arnold Obscura: Po-Hsu Chen in Table Tennis Challenge

  • Photos by Meghan Ralston
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From the February 28, 2013 edition

When Po-Hsu Chen was 10 years old, his parents enrolled him in a table tennis summer workshop in his native Taiwan. He liked it, so they hired a coach to work with him once a week. In junior high, he attended a professional sports school, spending his mornings in class and his afternoons in rigorous practices with teammates who’d been training since they could walk.

This was every bit as hardcore as you’d imagine from a specialized table tennis program at a professional sports school in Taiwan. Suddenly, the sport that had been such a joy became a constant stress. Some of his teammates dominated their competition with the ease of career tributes in “The Hunger Games”; Po-Hsu could barely scrape his way to a win in that environment. He knew he wasn’t cut out to go pro.

“I decided to give up. I didn’t want to be a professional player,” Po-Hsu said. “After that, table tennis has been more fun for me because I don’t feel so much pressure.”

All that hard work sharpening his topspin serve wasn’t for naught, though. Po-Hsu won numerous amateur honors throughout his high school and college years, ascending to a No. 3 national ranking. His technique is unorthodox, but it gets the job done.

“My defense is better than my offense, so I try to make others move and change directions,” Po-Hsu said. “Usually, people try to play diagonal. I like to play down the line.”

The universal language of sports has been helpful in acclimating to a new country, too. Po-Hsu traveled around the world to Columbus in 2011 to begin work on a Ph.D. in statistics at Ohio State, where the Buckeye Table Tennis Club has been a means to build friendships and improve his English.

“Joining a sports club ... is really good for us (international students) to contact others,” Po-Hsu said. “Maybe because we have a common topic and we can discuss the same goals.”

Po-Hsu — who goes by “Allen” in the States — is now 28, years removed from his intensive training. He enters tournaments when he can, though he shies away from traveling hours on end to compete. He often still places high, including a second-place finish in his division at the Arnold last year.

Given his recent first-place finish in the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association South Ohio Division men's single championship, he’s gunning for that No. 1 spot in the Arnold’s 10th annual table tennis showdown.