Ping-pong detectives: RAE Systems called in to find Olympics 'paddle doping' cheats

Cheating at table tennis might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about radiation-detection technology, but London 2012 is taking no chances when it comes to 'paddle doping'

Ping pong might not be the first sport to spring to mind when the subject of 'doping' comes up, but the sport's authorities are taking no chances for the Olympics — they've called in RAE systems to ensure that everything that takes place on the table tennis table is above board.

In the early 1970s wily table tennis players realised that they could increase the spin when striking the ball by applying the same glue that's used to repair bike tyres under the rubber on their paddles. More sophisticated techniques and use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, octane and N-hexane in combination with the 'speed glue' are now employed, but the idea remains the same — to increase speed and spin on shots.

"While most of us associate cheating scandals with mainstream professional sports, the practice of paddle doping goes to show that even the relatively tame world of table tennis is not immune to this culture where athletes are willing to take extreme measures — and yes, even cheat — to gain the upper hand over the competition," a spokeswoman for RAE Systems told ZDNet.

Unsurprisingly, the practice of 'paddle doping' — which can give up to 30 percent more speed and spin — is now strictly banned and participants are required to submit their equipment to an ITTF paddle controller for inspection to ensure the rubber is the correct thickness and no solvents are present.

For the London 2012 Olympics, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITFF) asked RAE Systems to ensure that no cheating took place by using its MiniRAE Lite photo ionization detector (PID).

The MiniRAE Lite PID (pictured below) works by breaking down chemicals into ions under an ultraviolet light. These ions can then easily be counted with a matched detector and amplified. The results are shown on the meter's display in parts per million (ppm).


The device needed little modification for its Olympic duties, and is simply attached to the paddle with Teflon tubes and a special cap, where it can then easily detect whether the paddle is within the ambient air exposure limit set by the ITTF, the company's spokeswoman said.

When not protecting the integrity of table tennis on a global stage, the US-based company specialises in gas and radiation detection in industries including, perhaps unexpectedly, telecoms. Its new ProRAE Guardian Cloudserver is a cloud-based detection system that can send information about toxic gas and radiation to multiple remote sites in real time.