By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
In June of this year, the 2017 National Senior Games were held in Birmingham. It was the 30th anniversary of the games. Attalla resident Barry Putnam competed in the Games’ Men’s Doubles Table Tennis tournament and in an upset won the gold medal in the division.
Putnam started playing table tennis, also called ping-pong, in the sixth grade when his dad bought a pool table with table tennis accessories that went on top.
“I didn’t really get into the sport of it until I joined the military,” said Putnam.
Putnam said that the table tennis is a versatile sport, as it is non-contact, played indoors year-round and can be enjoyed most of your life, but can be very physical if you get into the sport.
The National Senior Games are held once every two years. Participants are all over the age of 50. Putnam qualified for the games in 2015, but could not travel to Minnesota to participate. He qualified for the 2017 games after the state tournament in 2016. The top two teams from the state games are qualified to compete nationally.
The Senior Games Men’s Doubles Table Tennis tournament was also divided into age brackets. Putnam, age 62, was in the age 60 to 64 age bracket. Putnam’s table tennis partner is Ivan Skripnik of Birmingham.
“We got lucky,” said Putnam, about the win.
The tournament started with a round robin competition with four teams to a table that all played each other. During Putnam’s round robin his team was defeated twice, but so were two other teams.
“We thought we were out of it because we had two losses,” said Putnam.
Putnam and Skripnik advanced because they won by a larger margin than the other teams.
For the next tournament round, anyone who loses a match is eliminated. Putnam’s team was seated fifth, and won against seat four, three and two. The final round was against seat one, a pair of players from California.
“They were rated 400 points above us,” said Putnam. “They should have annihilated us.”
The match consisted of the best out of five games to 11 points. Putnam’s team won the first two games, but their opponents won the next two games. The final match came down to 7 against 10 points, with Putnam’s opponents in the lead. Putnam was about to serve, when a table tennis coach and friend of Putnam called a time out to give them advice to utilize Putnam’s strong backhand.
Putnam’s team went on to score three more points, which resulted in a “deuce” where both teams have 10 points, so 12 points is needed to win instead of 11. Putnam’s team scored two more points to win the national title.
“We took five points in a row to take the gold medal,” said Putnam. “It was a thrill. We were both excited.”
Putnam was one of about 10,000 participants in the National Senior Games. Competitors traveled from across the United States and from nine different foreign countries.
“What I was shocked by was the level of competition,” said Putnam. “You see these 80 year olds and 90 year olds out there that could kick my butt. It was just really encouraging to see the senior citizens active. Not only active, but competitive and in good shape.”
Putnam was one of 21 gold medalists from the state of Alabama. Governor Kay Ivey recognized the gold medalists for their accomplishments on November 28.
Putnam enjoyed talking to the other gold medalists at the ceremony, including a “perky” 90-year-old woman who received the gold medal in the backstroke swimming competition.
Putnam has not yet determined whether he will be traveling to Albuquerque, N.M., to defend the title in 2019.