A few Olympic gold medalists are in Chicago along with other titans of table tennis for the first-ever Chicago International Table Tennis Festival beginning tonight. Among the big names: Ariel Hsing, the youngest-ever U.S. national champion. (The high school junior is also a pal of Warren Buffet).
But the two-day event isn't just about sports. It's all part of an effort to raise Chicago's profile in China, where table tennis is a national sport.
"One of the purposes of the event is to really connect Chicago with China," said festival organizer Robert Blackwell Jr., who is also the president of Chicago-based Killerspin, a table tennis equipment, apparel and media company that is sponsoring the event.
Blackwell hopes this will attract the lucrative Chinese tourist market here to Chicago. Games from the tournament will be broadcast throughout China.
"They don’t know enough about our city. They know a lot about New York, and the West Coast, and Orlando, because it’s heavily marketed," he said.
The U.S. also receives several billion dollars a year from Chinese students who are studying here. In Illinois, international students contributed $945 million to the state last year. Chinese students makes the biggest group of foreign students here - just about the quarter of that.
So Blackwell’s also hoping to get their attention.