Tuesday 25 October 2011

U.S Comeback Queen Carving Path to Olympic Qualifiers

Kim Gilbert was a player I just had to interview after seeing the first picture of her standing on a table at SPiN Milwaukee's Opening. Kim has a fantastic image as a table tennis player, that die hard passion for the sport which is hard to find these days. Kim in many ways is like the great fighter Jean Michel Saive, she's in the sport for life and competes hard and fair and aims for the highest pinnacles. Thanks so much for the interview Kim, she has put a lot of thought into her answers, hope you all enjoy. Please also take the time to visit Kim's site www.kimgilbert.com

Full Name: Kim Gilbert
Age: 46
Date of Birth: 12/13/64, Los Angeles, CA
Nation represented: USA
Highest US Ranking:

Highest US Ranking #11 – Women’s Singles at USOF

Highest US Ranking #1 – Women’s Doubles at USOF

Highest US Rating 1964 in TT Topics and 2013 at USOF

Equipment Used?
Blade: Butterfly Coubertin 7 Ply Double Carbon
FH Rubber: Tenergy
BH Rubber: Tenergy

Your Career:

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?

In 1979 at the age of 14, my father was having lunch with a business partner who had just returned from Sweden where he had competed at the World Senior Table Tennis Championships. A few months prior, my father had purchased a ping-pong table for my mother and me to play on, so he surprised me one night by taking me with his business partner to the Hollywood Table Tennis Club to play in a tournament, kind of as a joke! A top player at the club (Lim Ming Chui) pulled my father aside and told him he thought that with a little coaching I had potential. I took lessons at this club for 3 years and then won the CA State Junior Title. I then travelled to England and France to train further. I competed in the US and Canada up until my accident in 1992 when I was forced to retire due to a shattered right arm with severed nerves.

You were gone from table tennis for quite some time and in 2010 launched a comeback tour, what brought the new motivation and drive back?
In 1992 I suffered a horrible slip and fall injury that shattered my playing arm into 15 pieces, requiring years of surgeries and rehabilitation. The first surgery required an external fixator to be implanted to fuse my bones that ended up severing a main nerve causing partial paralysis in the arm. The doctors told me that I would never be able to compete again. I tried to play once 6 years after the accident just to see if I could, but it was so painful that I gave it up for good. Almost two decades went by without giving another thought to table tennis until I was hired as an executive and marketing assistant by Dial800 in 2009. Dial800 specializes in helping advertisers to optimize their direct marketing campaigns. Their management believes in a balance between work and life and even though I am a full-time employee, they understand the unique opportunity that table tennis and the Olympics represent for me. They are totally supportive as my corporate sponsor, for which I am eternally grateful.

Shortly after being hired, all Dial800 employees were given lifetime membership cards to 24 Hour Fitness because they had a fitness center in our building. So after being sedentary for so long, I really no excuse not to get some kind of exercise program going! On my first day at their facility I could have passed out from the smell of the place. I tried to endure it but I ended up returning the card (graciously) to our CEO. He suggested (jokingly) that I try ping-pong again, so I figured okay what could I lose? So I went for the first time to the Gilbert TableTennis Center and to my surprise I could play without experiencing too much pain. It really just snowballed from there! I was asked to host weekly events for SPiN Hollywood as a professional table tennis player. Soon after that, several other corporate sponsors wanted in the mix. I am currently the only US table tennis athlete (that I am aware of) that has secured corporate sponsorship (5 times) outside of our sport. I truly believe that this “Out of the Box” approach to marketing and advertising of table tennis is a major key for the growth and future of our sport. As a matter of fact, I recently finished filming a Dial800 commercial with Soo Yeon Lee that is soon to be released featuring table tennis in the mix with their marketing. It’s kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, nice individually - but explosive together!

What has been the highlight of your table tennis career so far?

I have a fire burning in my gut these days that keeps telling me the best is yet to come with my second table tennis career! Out of the first career highlights listed below, I have one memorable highlight that really stands out:

2011 Hawaii Island Open Women’s Champion

2011 U.S. Open Semi-Finalist Women’s Singles (O-40)

2010 U.S. Closed National Semi-Finalist Women’s Singles (O-40)

1991 Olympic Festival Coach (Women’s Team) 

1990 Olympic Festival Gold Medalist (Women's Doubles)

1989 World Corporate Games Women’s Champion

1989 Olympic Festival Bronze Medalist

1988 Olympic Trials Quarter-Finalist, Cedar Rapids, IOWA

1987 Olympic Festival Gold Medalist

1986 KCOP-Los Angeles Sports Star of the Year

1986 Olympic Festival Silver Medalist

1986 ESPN Olympic Record for Fastest Reflexes

1985 U.S. Closed National Champion (U-1800)

1983 Pacific Coast Open Women’s Table Tennis Champion

1983 California State Women’s Table Tennis Champion

1982 National Sports Festival Gold Medalist

1982 California State Junior Champion (Boys and Girls)

I made the 1990 US Olympic Festival team as an alternate player (as I was ranked 17th) and slated only to compete in the singles event that year in Minneapolis when there was an injury to a player who was scheduled to play in Women’s Doubles. By filling in for her, I knew this was my big chance and took it! After battling close match after close match, we finally made it to the finals at about 10pm!! It was a very close match that went to a final and deciding game. Our match point was a long one until I finished it off with a powerful smash that won us the title! I remember when I was called over to the media area for an interview after the match; I excused myself for 5 minutes in need of time to cool off. I ran out of the building into a thick wooded area of their campus and uncontrollably let out a yell that I will never forget. At that moment I finally knew what true victory felt like!

You regularly appear in SPiN clubs in the US, how successful do you feel they have been in promoting table tennis and what was your involvement with SPiN Hollywood?
After the Grand Opening of SPiN Hollywood in the summer of 2010 I was asked by their management to host weekly events at their Mondrian Hotel location, as well as off-site events and parties. There were a lot of private parties, corporate mixers, and celebrity events that I hosted there. SPiN franchises have served as an excellent platform that has successfully generated a social, corporate and entertainment industry buzz for table tennis. Making ping-pong chic and trendy is what our country needed as a catalyst to create awareness of table tennis as an amazing Olympic sport.

Holding a corporate event with ping-pong at one of the SPiN locations can benefit an entire company by enjoying an activity together that is not work-related and not just another boring company mixer or dinner. It is also ideal for networking with clients, vendors and new prospects. A lot of new business can be created at these events and they offer an ideal place to fundraise, entertain, mingle, socialize, exercise, unwind, and of course eat and drink! They are also perfect for your next corporate competition or group lessons for beginners and serious players.

SPiN clubs are a fun place where anyone can feel at ease socializing with friends, strangers, competitors, business associates, or even a blind date!! It’s a place where you can be yourself, whether that is a novice or professional player, a young person or old person, male or female. I am completely behind all the efforts of SPiN Galactic franchises. As a matter of fact, I have a corporate event to host and perform at coming up at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for a media company throwing a posh mixer for their entertainment industry clients and prospects. You see the media firm knows the party attendees personally, but the client and prospects do not know each other. My job is to get everyone acquainted and comfortable around the setting of a ping-pong tournament. It works like magic, because all of a sudden people have a lot to talk about and become amalgamated through the love of the game! This event is direct result of business generated from an event at SPiN last year, which I am ever so grateful for AGAIN!

You have recently announced you will be participating in the U.S Olympic Trials, how do you feel about your chances there and what are you hoping to achieve?
At this point in time, I am focused on surviving the training and staying healthy for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials! The last time I tried out was 25 years ago, so just making it this far has pretty much surpassed anything that I dreamed of achieving, much less thought was even possible. I have a chance to make it through as a wildcard this February at the Qualifying tournament, but after that it will surely be an uphill battle. Or as I have been teased about lately... an over-the-hill battle!!! Whatever happens I am honoured to be a participant again in what I think is still such an amazingly intricate and exciting sport!

What do you think is lacking in women's table tennis around the world in terms of numbers and image?
Clearly our greatest lacking is that there are too few women who play table tennis seriously in the United States, much less worldwide.This is not just an image issue; there is a huge difference between earnings between men and women as professionals in the table tennis. Today some top women players can earn good money, but it is mediocre compared to that of men in table tennis and mere peanuts compared to that of women in other popular sports. Another major problem is that young players in many countries aren't exposed to table tennis growing up in schools. However, in countries like China table tennis is part of their culture and everyday well-being for their society as a whole. Now they have exemplified power in numbers for women's table tennis! Early exposure is the only way to increase the numbers, which will then produce a marketable image.

You have been strongly involved in promoting table tennis since your return to the sport, what kinds of things have you been doing and what do you think is needed around the world to put table tennis in cement on the map?

Since 2010 I’ve had a renewed passion to help table tennis, especially where it is needed most...right here in the USA. I think that my role today is to help show that it doesn’t matter what age, gender, size, or culture you are because table tennis is for everyone. I have exposed thousands of people to the thrill of top notch and fast paced table tennis so they can experience it live, up close, and in person. The more people that we expose to experiencing table tennis this way, the more fans our sport will have for life. The more events and exhibitions we provide with a wide variety of exceptional players, the broader the audience can become. We desperately need a bigger audience and these two types of marketing events can help get us in cement on the map.

What is the best thing about table tenis as a sport for you?

The best part about table is that it is fulfilling in so many different ways. It not only promotes outstanding health and growth as a person, but in general a life in sports provides an abundance of magical moments for both the athlete and the spectator. Table tennis is very unique from other sports because it also can improve your vision, coordination, and even cognitive thinking. At high level of play all parts of the brain are active, which seldom occurs in other sports. Several years ago a Japanese study conducted by Dr. Teruaki Mori and Tomohiko Sazto demonstrated that "table tennis" uniquely activates as many as 5 separate portions of the brain simultaneously - thus producing an increased awareness, an improved state of cognition, improvement of motor function, attentiveness, concentration and endurance. Other health benefits of ping pong are an increased and effective cardiovascular blood flow and an improved cerebral blood flow to the cerebellum and brain stem. It's a sport that (especially when played at a high level) involves both the body and brain to interact at much higher levels and as a matter of course, players utilize their eyes, develop a heightened reflex function, and improve their balance and coordination skills. Additionally, Oprah's favorite physician, Dr. Oz, dedicated a prime segment of his television show on the benefits of ping pong, describing it as his favorite "brain sport". With all these benefits I think my favorite thing about table tennis is that it is a sport played for life by everyone.

You mention you would like to create a full time career out of table tennis, do you think in the near future that will become a more viable option for more players globally?
It already is an option for some countries, the rest of us are still catching up!

Off the Topic Questions:

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Michael Phelps

Favourite food?
Sushi, hands down!!
What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
Like most table tennis players, I work a full-time job too. I’m lucky that I just happen to work for my one of my corporate sponsors when I’m not playing table tennis. When I’m not working or playing table tennis (or pong as I refer to it), I’m still a California girl at heart and enjoy the beach and water at all other times. Beyond that these days, I am used complaining about how sore I am from training!!

Dream Car?1994 Ferrari 348 Spider Convertible

Ideal holiday destination?
FIJI, FIJI, FIJI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First thing you would do if you won $1million?

Open a SPiN franchise, preferably in Los Angeles to keep the ball rolling so to say!

A video in Tribute to Kim Gilbert's Table Tennis Career

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
The key to success as a player in table tennis is positioning, precision, power, and poise. You put these qualities together and you will succeed for sure at table tennis and much more.

Would you like to add any advice for female players in table tennis?
You are not alone! There are other women just like you around the world with a great love for the sport but no way to make a living at it. My advice is to do what I did. Work hard in other areas so that you become valuable to your employer. An employer is more apt to fund an employee as an athlete, than a random athlete asking for a donation to their cause. Also, connect with other female players because even though other women represent the competition, we all are in this sport together as a whole group.

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