KUWAIT CITY — The US Olympic table tennis team has been training at a US military encampment in Kuwait where “the best ping-pong players in the world” are found, a spokesman for the team confirmed today.
“The facilities are first-class, of course,” coach Stefan Feth told reporters about Camp Arifjan’s sprawling table tennis facilities. “But it was the huge number of competitors who spend almost every hour of the day playing table tennis that really caught my attention.”
“It’s as if all anyone does around here is play ping pong,” he later added.
While many details about Camp Arifjan are secret, the encampment is widely known by US veterans as a major hub of competitive table tennis. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal chronicled the rise of international table tennis phenom David George, who had deployed to Kuwait as a mechanic with the Montana Army National Guard.
“To be honest with you, I hadn’t even touched a ping pong paddle before deploying,” he said at the time. “It’s just that you find yourself with so much down time, I mean. What else is there to do?”
With temperatures that can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, staying cool is reportedly a top priority for deployed service members in the Middle East. Camp Arifjan’s air conditioned MWR facilities have become a refuge for listless soldiers who sometimes struggle to find something constructive to do, said Virginia Worthington, a translator who works on base.
“Sure, there are Arabic language classes and MBA extension programs you can sign up for, but why?” she asked reporters over the din of a heated doubles tournament. “The action is right here!”
“Hey!” she added, pointing at a player who had just netted a serve. “You better take that weak shit back to CONUS!”
American military personnel are not the only talented table tennis players on the base, according to Tim Lee, a player on the men’s US national table tennis team. He told reporters that many third country nationals, migrant laborers who work on base, are just as skilled as the US military players.
“Some of the TCN guys have incredible spin control,” he said. “It’s almost like they’ve been trapped here for years with table tennis as their only outlet.”
When reached for comment, Area Support Group-Kuwait Commander Col. Shannon E. Nielsen, who was then-playing a heated doubles match himself, said, “What? No! The serve can’t spin off the side of the table in doubles play! This is Kuwait, baby! Not some bullshit summer camp at the YMCA!”