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Is this the next big ping? It's a sport for all ages and is more physical than you might imagine. REBECCA GREENER and ELLEN McGANN speak to some of the growing number of table tennis fans in the region.

WHETHER you call it ping pong or table tennis, it's fast becoming one of the North East's most popular pastimes, as people of all ages and abilities discover a new way to improve their health and their social life.

The sport has been awarded its own national day tomorrow - it's called The Next Big Ping! - which aims to get as many people as possible trying the game.

There's even an inspiring documentary film out called Ping Pong about eight veteran champions.

Long-time coach, David Godbold, from Washington, says: "It started to get big within the juniors in the past five to 10 years. However, there is a massive scene in the veterans and it goes up to even over 90-year-olds.

"It's a sport for life really, any age can take part and you don't really get any injuries from table tennis."

Nigel Tree, 62, trains with Mr Godbold and also plays competitively. "I originally used to play when I was 16, then realised I missed it around 18 months ago and took it up again," he says, adding that table tennis can have a wide range of social and physical benefits.

"I have lost two and a half stone in the past 18 months," explains Nigel, who's from Prudhoe in Northumberland, and managing director of an educational publishing company.

"It can be hugely active, and you have to be very fit."

The game is spilling out of its traditional home in sports centres and youth clubs too. The Cumberland Arms, in the Newcastle suburb of Byker, is home to one of the longest-running ping pong-in-a-bar nights in the UK, celebrating its fifth anniversary last February.

Inspired by a bar in Berlin called Dr Pong, the night is becoming increasingly popular. The next is scheduled for Saturday August 18.

Says organiser Toby Lowe: "Last year we had to stop telling people when the nights were because it got too popular.

"We are up to three weddings now of people who have met at our ping pong nights, a couple of long-term relationships and a ping-pong baby."

Continued Rosy Thorslund, 36, who works at St Thomas More School in Blaydon, 26

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SPORTING SOUNDTRACK Some of the table tennis players during one of the ping pong nights that run at The Cumberland Arms in Newcastle
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2012
Words:384
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