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George Hendry, 1920–2011

The comeback kid of pro table tennis

George Hendry’s table-tennis prowess hardly faded with age. In the 1992 U.S. Open, when he was 72, the onetime junior champion sensationally beat Peruvian star André Wong, earning a spot in the final 32. As Hendry warmed up for his next match, his opponent, a clueless Japanese 20-something, asked him to return to his seat before the game began. “The guy couldn’t believe he had to play this old man,” recalled table-tennis club official Rich Doza.

Hendry became obsessed with table tennis as a teenager in St. Louis, said The New York Times. He proved to be a natural at the sport and became one of the country’s top players at the age of 15. His success landed his picture on the Wheaties box, earning him $25 a month and a box of the breakfast cereal every day for two years.

Hendry served as a medic in World War II, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and retired from table tennis in 1952 to open an accountancy firm. When he returned to competitive table tennis in the 1970s, the game was faster, and there was a new generation of Asian players to contend with. “For the first couple of years, everyone was beating the hell out of me,” he later recalled. But he worked to regain his signature topspin and was soon back to peak fitness.

On the senior circuit, said the St. Louis Riverfront Times, Hendry regained his “throne atop the sport.” He won 35 national seniors championships in the following years and in 1990 took home the world championship for players aged 70 and over. He played his last national championship in 2009, at the age of 89.

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