Sport rulers fear athletes risking health by inhaling toxic fumes

8/20/2008 - Olympic Sports

BEIJING -- Top table tennis players have
long used "speed glue" to boost the power and spin of their
shots, but the sport's rulers fear they could be risking their
health by inhaling toxic fumes.

Just outside the Olympic table tennis stadium stands a
white tent that players venture into before matches to prepare
their bats, gluing a fresh rubber covering onto the wooden

"You breathe it too much and you begin to lose your
balance. It is a bit like a table tennis drug," said Peter
Gardos, an Austrian coach.

A professional player in Japan collapsed while gluing his
bat last year, falling into a coma for six days. Though there
is no hard proof that glue was the cause, the case set alarm
bells ringing for the International Table Tennis Federation

It banned glues containing volatile organic compounds,
known colloquially as speed glue, mandating a switch to
water-based alternatives. The Beijing Games are the last time
players will be exposed to the potentially harmful chemicals.

"If you glue once a week, or maybe even once a day, it
would not have been so important. But they are gluing 10 times
a day and then it could be a problem," said Claude Bergeret,
ITTF vice president.

Behind this arcane rule change, seemingly with only
players' health in mind, a debate has raged in the table tennis

Gas produced by the soon-to-be-outlawed chemicals seeps
into the bat's rubber covering and helps to catapult balls
struck by players -- hence the term speed glue. Critics charge
that the glue ban is a veiled attempt to slow the rapid-fire

"The ball will be slower and there won't be so much spin,"
said Crystal Xi Huang of the United States team.

"It will be tougher for players who block and attack, and
easier for choppers," said Romania's Iulia Necula. Chop shots
are the mainstay of defensive players and they make for long
but sometimes tedious rallies.

The ITTF first decided on the speed glue ban in 2004 but
held off on its implementation after players and equipment
makers pleaded for time to adjust. From September, it will
introduce a doping test for bats -- a device that can detect
whether the illegal glue is present in the rubber covering.