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JapanFriday, June 3

Crafting a Gold Medal Standard

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics are just 2 months away. But before the Games can begin, craftspeople have to finish the final touches on their work.

In Japan, high Olympic standards are needed for a special kind of table.

One such table is on its way to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It's the official table for table tennis. And it embodies Japanese attention to detail.

Regular tabletops are made out of a single piece of board. But for higher quality ones, the manufacturer decided to go with numerous boards. It helps them avoid a typical problem with the tabletops.

"Wooden boards continue to breathe even after they are processed. So they could warp and change their shape," says Kesao Yoshizawa, project chief at San-ei. "We can minimize this warping, and also make the tabletop rigid enough, by producing it with multiple wooden boards."

Sayaka Hirano was part of the Japanese team that won silver at the London Olympics. Here's her take on what makes a good table.

"It's hard to predict how the ball moves if the table has some spots where the ball bounces and other spots where it doesn't. So a table that allows stable bounces is a good one. I think Japanese tables are more reliable than those made in other countries," she says.

Before painting the boards, the craftspeople need to check the surface.

"It's easier to sense what the surface is like if you're wearing gloves," says craftsperson Ko Tsugaruya. "We're thrilled that our products will be used in an event that attracts attention from around the world."

A table isn't complete without a base. The curve for the Olympic table is meant to mimic the arc of a bouncing ball.

As with the tabletop, the base is also being made in Japan but by a different company.

"It was the first time we had made a ping-pong table. Also, we'd never produced a board that thick. So it was a very challenging job for us," says Kazuo Yuki, director at Tendo, the company that made the base.

The base is thick and has a complicated shape. Instead of carving from a single piece of wood, the craftspeople decided to stick 50 layers of board together.

The board is heated and slowly bent over the course of 2 hours, then it's cut and the polishing process begins.

The focus at the Olympics is of course on the athletes and sport. But behind each event are countless craftspeople who were responsible for helping make the Games happen. Through their work, they help the athletes shine.