Best All-Time Table Tennis Player

The best all-time table tennis (or ping-pong) player is Viktor Barna. He was born in Hungary in 1911 and had an amazing career in the somewhat under-appreciated sport. He won 40 World Championship Medals during his career. Twenty-two of them were gold medals. He played singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.

Barna’s playing days at table tennis (popularly called “ping-pong”) started early when he was named Hungarian Jr. Champion in 1927. Table tennis was a craze in Budapest in the 20s. Barna went on over the years to win five World Singles Championships. It was in 1930 that he won his first singles title. Barna’s trademark was the backhand flick. It was deadly yet elegant. A British cigarette card described him as a perfect-looking specimen of physical fitness. It probably wasn’t much of an exaggeration considering the reflexes and speed required to win at the game of table tennis.

A natty young Victor on a 1936 British cigarette card.
A natty young Victor on a 1936 British cigarette card. Thanks to guano on for the picture.

The highlight of his career was in 1935 in England at the World Championships. He won the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles. He was really the first table tennis superstar. Later in 1935, his career playing singles was ended when his playing arm was severely injured in a car accident. He was able to enjoy some success as a doubles player.

During the Second World War, Barna joined the English army and fought in Yugoslavia. When the war ended he stayed in England and became a British national. He traveled the world as a representative for Dunlop Sports and died in 1972 of a heart attack while in Peru.

Central European countries, like Barna’s Hungary, dominated the sport for year until the 50s when the Asian countries began to produce the champions.

Victor Barna won 32 World Championship medals.
Victor Barna won 32 World Championship medals, among them 23 gold, 6 silver, and 3 bronze. Thanks to guano on for the picture.

Table tennis has been played at the Olympics since 1988. Nearly 200 countries participate in the International Table Tennis Federation. Nearly 40 million people worldwide play table tennis. Measures have been taken to slow the game down to make it easier to watch on television, something that Barna could never have imagined.

In 1993, Viktor Barna was inducted into the International Table Tennis Foundation Hall of Fame. No one has come close to beating his record of 22 championship titles. He’s our pick for the top table tennis player in history.

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