Most table tennis fans would remember the times when using speed glue for rackets was a norm, so much so those not using it were very outnumbered. Things changed drastically, however, after speed glue was banned; here we discuss why speed glue isn’t used any more in table tennis after giving you a lowdown of what is the use of speed glue in this sport.
What was the Use of Speed Glue in Table Tennis?
Speed Glue is a kind of glue or adhesive which is used to stick the rubber layer of a table tennis racket on to the wooden frame.
The reason for its application was it helped improve the elasticity of a table tennis racket which in turn had a positive bearing on the speed and spin during play.
Typically speed glues were applied few minutes before the start of a match in a bid to allow for maximum effect.
How Did the Speed Glue Work for Speed?
As mentioned earlier, speed glue was applied between the rubber and the wooden frame. In the minutes following the usage, speed glue gives out solvent vapours which are lodged into the porous cells of the rubber, making it expand.
This, in turn, changes the rubber’s tension and increases its trampoline effect when the ball hits it, thereby increasing the speed and spin during a match.
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How was the Table Tennis Usage of Speed Glue Discovered?
The use of speed glue for table tennis was discovered in the 1970s and quite by accident.
A player, who used bicycle puncture repair glue between the rubber and wooden frame, found a drastic difference in the speed and performance of the racket.
This led to a discovery that different adhesives affected the table tennis racket characteristics in different ways and one could gain an advantage by using solvents like trichloroethylene and 1,1,1-trichloroethane.
Table tennis players used to glue the rubber back to their racket typically around two to four times a year, usually when they had to change the old rubber and bring in a new one. After the aforementioned discovery, this re-gluing process became as common as before every match played.
One of the first few players to use speed glue on their rackets included Dragutin Surbek.
Surbek, who went on to win the World Championship golds in 1979 while partnering Antun Stipančić and in 1983 alongside Zoran Kalinić and bronze in 1971, 1973 and 1981 in the men’s singles, has been credited with propelling the use of speed glue in table tennis.
And it wasn’t just Surbek who was an early user.
Istvan Jonyer, Gabor Gergely and Tibor Klampar are some of the others who were active in using the speed glue on their table tennis rackets, in turn helping it become common practice among European table tennis players.
What are the Disadvantages of Such Speed Glues?
It’s not all hunky-dory with the use of speed glues and it comes with its own set of disadvantages. Here’re some of the problems associated with it:
- Difficulty in Usage
- Health Hazards
- Increased Racket Weight
- Racket Cost Increase
- Quicker Rallies
Difficulty of Use
One of the biggest issues with using speed glue is its effect on a table tennis racket lasts for around two hours (some speed glues in later times with more advanced technology would last for a few days too).
This would lead to players needing to speed glue their racket before every game leading to queues to the room which was specially designated for this very purpose during tournaments.
However, the bigger issue was to do with the health hazards related to speed glue. According to experts, some of the compounds used in the speed glue could be linked to cancer, especially when inhaled.
And if players were regularly applying speed glue to their rackets to gain advantage, there is always that chance of regular inhalation of this.
As mentioned earlier, there is a need for a regular use of speed glue to gain an optimum advantage but it also means over time the weight of the table tennis racket increases. Table tennis is a game is narrow margins and even a few grams of a weight change could lead to a drastic effect on gameplay.
Cost of the Racket
The one other issue associated with speed glues, which might not be too much of a bother for the top-ranked players is the added cost. Speed glues force players to change their racket rubber way more regularly than otherwise and that comes at an added cost.
The life-span of the rubber used on the table tennis racket would be drastically reduced due to speed glue as compared to when other adhesives were used.
Usually, the rubber of a racket with speed glue needs four times quicker replacement than normal glue.
Increased Speed of the Game
If we move away from the aforementioned problems, the use of speed glue was usually done at the highest level of table tennis alone.
This was because while its use added a lot more speed and spin, it also needed players to be in a lot more control of their shots and that’s usually an issue at lower or beginner levels of table tennis (check our guide for the best table tennis rackets for a beginner here).
When & Why was Speed Glue Banned from Table Tennis?
Speed glues were usually used alongside solvents and it was the use of those solvents which was a big issue. They contained vapours which could be quite harmful to health; these vapours are often used as inhalants.
For starters, the ITTF banned numerous substances associated with table tennis paddles in 1995, including solvents with benzene rings, halogenated solvents and N-hexane. This was followed by a blanket ban on speed glue.
The decision to ban the use of speed glue in table tennis rackets was taken in 2004 by the ITTF.
One of the incidents which is said to have set alarm bells ringing is when a Japanese player blacked out during the process of gluing his table tennis racket and spent six days in a coma. Although it wasn’t established this was due to speed glue, it led the ITTF to take action.
The ITTF enforced the ban from September 1, 2007 but then pushed the day to September 1, 2008, allowing players to use it during the 2008 Olympics for the last time.
The biggest reason for its ban was the health reason mentioned in the section above. As discussed, speed glue has been linked with cancer and other health issues and any glue which consisted of volatile organic solvents was deemed illegal.
Apart from consisting of substances which are carcinogens, health hazards related to mutagenicity, reproductive poisoning and target organ issues were also a part of the reason for the ban.
There is one other reason why speed glue might have been banned from table tennis.
It’s to do with the need to lower the speed, much like how the table tennis ball size was also increased in 2000. The rationale behind slowing the game down is to increase the rallies and hence bring in the masses to follow the game.
The issue, however, it’s not easy to know if a table tennis racket has been speed-glued.
At times, speed-glued rackets make a different kind of a sound, which is usually higher-pitched than when a normal adhesive is used. At times, rackets which are speed glued have a different scent associated with them.
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Which Types of Glues are Banned by ITTF?
Three main types of speed or other glues were banned by the ITTF from 2008. These include:
- VOC-Based Glue with VOC
- Speed Glues without VOC
- Boosters with or without VOC
Only water-based glues and self-adhesive sheets which don’t contain VOC are now allowed by the ITTF.