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Medal winners. From left: Stellan Bengtsson, Kjell Johansson and Hans Alsér could play full time table tennis thanks to the big sales of their respective STIGA rackets. Photo: STIGA
DURING A PERIOD OF STRONG ECONOMIC expansion in Sweden during the 1960s, more or less every school, every private house and every company had table tennis tables for pupils, families and employees on which to play. Furthermore by sponsoring big competitions with tables, the STIGA logo flew around the world and attracted media attention; world champions like Hans Alsér, Kjell Johansson and Stellan Bengtsson were contracted, the effect was the STIGA name was associated indelibly with table tennis, globally respected, an unrivalled reputation.
The name STIGA became synonymous with quality, progress, fun, and success; in addition the company seized the initiative. In their development work they employed Swedish stars and paid them the best salaries in the table tennis world at the time. Alsér, Johansson and Bengtsson left their mundane jobs and became the first pro- fessional athletes in Swedish national sport.
It was an opportunity which the players seized with passion; also they accepted the responsibility bestowed. They trained better and harder than their competitors and, when their success peaked in the first half of the 1970s not only did a media fuss result, a standard had also been set. It proved a major inspiration for the next generation, a new generation duly emerged, a generation who would continue the legacy in the 1980s and beyond.
No wonder Liu Guoliang said what he said before the Swedish Open and no wonder he choose to stay one week in the town Eskilstuna with his squad to practise when the tournament had finished. The reason was that in Eskilstuna the STIGA heritage of making things better and better is now managed.
Strong ties. National men ́s coach Liu Guoliang and STIGA Sport ́s CEO, Mats Bandstigen, during the training camp that China chose to hold in Eskilstuna, Sweden. Photo: STIGA
TODAY THE LINKS BETWEEN STIGA AND CHINA are closer than ever; from the very beginning STIGA was very open to the world of table tennis and contracted young successful foreign players. STIGA continues the tradition and today has some of the very best young players from China are contracted; notably Xu Xin and Guo Yue. The two youngsters follow an established tradition of playing with STIGA blades that started with.
Liu Guoliang himself, a legend in his own lifetime. He became the first male Chinese player ever to win singles gold at an Olympic Games when he succeeded in Atlanta in 1996; additionally three years later he was crowned Men’s Singles World champion. On both occasions he used a seven ply STIGA Clipper blade that incorporated red blocking veneers.
Interspersed between the training sessions in Eskilstuna, the Chinese team visited the STIGA factory in Eskilstuna where the blades are made. STIGA is the sponsor of blades to the Chinese National Team and Chief Executive Offier, Mats Bandstigen, had profound discussions with the Chinese on how to develop the blades even further in the future.
"Blade development and production is at the heart of all the table tennis equipment we sell", Mats Bandstigen explained to the players. "It is a sort of scientific skill to find the perfect balance between weight, speed and playing feeling. We have five to nine layers of veneers in our blades. How fast the blade will be is very much decided by the middle veneer; then you have blocking veneer and outer veneers."