It wasn't statesmen who broke China's 22 years of isolation from the West in 1971, but rather, Sports Illustrated notes, grown men with paddles. When Glenn Cowan accidentally jumped on the Chinese team bus during world table-tennis championships in Japan, star Zhuang Zedong brushed aside Mao's anti-capitalist harangues to greet the American and start building a bridge that will lead to August's Beijing Olympics.
Since the historic meeting, the US team (and Richard Nixon) visited China; a Chinese delegation began attending the Olympics, and the People's Republic joined the UN. "I only know how to play Ping-Pong, how to hit the ball from this side of the table to the other," Zhuang said last year in remembering his connection with Cowan, who died in 2004. "Sometimes the ball drops. Sometimes it goes out-of-bounds."