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Teen puts spotlight on Olympic table tennis

By Rebecca Angel Baer, CNN
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012
  • Ariel Hsing, 16, is representing Team USA in table tennis
  • Hsing met Warren Buffett as a child; he has played with her many times
  • Her advice: "I would just tell people to always fight for their dreams"

San Jose, California (CNN) -- Ping-pong is a game most Americans play in their basements. But competitive table tennis is a different story. In fact, it's an Olympic sport, and the United States has a bright, new star representing Team USA in London: 16-year-old Ariel Hsing.

Ariel's parents, Michael Hsing and Xin Jaing, immigrants to the United States, play table tennis. When her mother couldn't find a baby sitter, she brought a then 7-year-old Ariel along with her when playing at table tennis clubs. It was there that Ariel discovered her love for the sport and her talent.

"I love table tennis, and I love playing. I love to practice so I just kept practicing and there were tournaments along the way, but it just kind of happened gradually," said Ariel.

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Ariel Hsing credits her success to the support of her family.
Ariel Hsing credits her success to the support of her family.

"I never thought for one minute: 'OK, I am just going to dedicate my life to table tennis.' I really love it, and I'm really passionate about it so I just keep wanting to do it."

While other elite athletes focus solely on their sport and winning Olympic gold, Ariel is a junior at Valley Christian High School in San Jose with college on the horizon. She aspires to attend Stanford University.

Ariel understands that table tennis is not as popular other Olympic sports and doesn't bring in the same kind of endorsements and money. She must split her focus between athletics and academics.

To achieve success on the table and in the classroom, Ariel has a regimented schedule.

"I wake up at around 7 a.m. I'll go practice serves for half an hour, and then I'll start getting ready for school. My dad will drive me to school. After my classes, he'll pick me up with lunch and he'll drive me to a nearby club.

Hsing began playing table tennis at 7
Hsing began playing table tennis at 7

"And after I eat my lunch I'll usually take a nap in the car. And once I get there, at the club, I'll train for two to three hours and he'll drive me to another club and there I'll play another two hours, then I'll come home, eat dinner, do homework, and I'll finally get to sleep," Ariel said.

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All of the practice is necessary as Ariel notes her sport goes well beyond a friendly game of ping-pong.

"I think ping-pong is the kind of game that everyone loves to play. A lot of people have their table in their basement at home, and they just play around for fun but competitive table tennis is really different.

"It's not just about your arm, but you have to move your legs so much, it can be really tiring and when you're actually playing a match, it's just like a chess game. You have to beat the opponent mentally while they're trying to change their strategies," she said.

Ariel's made several sacrifices to get her to her first Olympic Games, such as adjusting her diet.

She heads to her first Olympics representing Team USA
She heads to her first Olympics representing Team USA

"I've had to give up a lot of food for table tennis. I really love to eat, and I love to eat anything unhealthy, anything that will give you a heart attack, those are my foods, so I've had to give up a lot of those in order to maintain a good athletic shape."

With her intense schedule, Ariel has also sacrificed time hanging out with friends, but she's also gained a notable new friend: Warren Buffett.

She met Buffett when she was 9 on Buffett's 75th birthday. Buffett received a table tennis lesson as a gift, and the local coach thought it be fun to bring a young phenom along to assist in the lesson. Ariel made such an impression on Buffett that he remains one of her biggest fans.

Buffett offers her advice, encouragement and is a constant cheerleader, even watching her matches online from his office.

"Uncle Warren has just been so supportive of me. When I was playing the finals of the Olympic trials, he was there in his office, cheering for me, and everyone in his office didn't know what was going on. So that was really funny," Ariel said.

Ariel met Warren Buffett at age 9 and he is one of her biggest fans
Ariel met Warren Buffett at age 9 and he is one of her biggest fans

She is appreciative of this special bond with Buffett, and it's clear the influence he's had on her. She hopes to major in business in college. But she says the best advice he's given her wasn't something he said but rather something she learned by example.

"He's just been so humble and just so down to earth, and I think that's really admirable, and I really want to be like that."

As she excitedly heads off to London, Ariel remains grounded in what her role is. She takes representing her country very seriously, but she also knows she bears a responsibility as a role model.

"I would just tell people to always fight for their dreams and just try really, really hard to go for it.

Because when I was 8 years old, I had a dream of making the Olympics one day. I wrote this down on a little piece of paper, and I rolled it up and I put it in this little box. ... I convinced myself if I opened that piece of paper, my wish would not come true. So it's just been sitting in my room, and it's been a constant reminder of my dream and a constant reminder of what I was working for."

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