Special for the Scottsdale Republic
Jan. 14, 2006 12:00 AM
Table tennis trophies, award certificates and photographs fill much of Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer's Scottsdale home. They are reminders of her success in the sport more than a half-century ago.
But an exercise bike, small trampoline and other athletic equipment are proof that Thall Sommer's competitive days aren't behind her, even at 81.
"I still play two to three times a week," she said. "I try to keep in shape. It's a lot of fun. It's very good exercise. I like the people. It's a challenge."
As a 23-year old in 1948, Thall Sommer won the World Table Tennis Championship in mixed doubles with Richard Miles in Wembley, England. They were the first American duo to win the title.
Last month, she was honored as a co-recipient of the Mark Matthews Award for Lifetime Achievement in table tennis - along with her late sister, Leah Thall Neuberger - at the 23rd annual U.S. Table Tennis Association Hall of Fame induction banquet in Las Vegas.
Thall Neuberger won the mixed doubles world championship with Erwin Klein in 1956 in Tokyo. It was the second, and last time, that Americans have won the championship.
The sisters are the first women to receive the prestigious award. Only eight people have been honored.
"I felt so bad that Leah wasn't there to receive it," Thall Sommer said. "She would have enjoyed it.
"Even though I had been fortunate enough to help win two world titles, I still never really considered myself up there (as one of the best table tennis players). That was nice."
The mixed doubles title might have been Thall Sommer's best-known accomplishment, but it wasn't her only feat. She also won a women's team world championship and was a women's singles and doubles competition world semifinalist.
She was an English Open women's doubles and mixed doubles champion, as well as a three-time U.S. Open women's doubles champion, in addition to winning other competitions throughout her career.
Thall Sommer was inducted into the U.S. Table Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 1980.
In May 2000, she was named one of the greatest U.S. female players of the century by USA Table Tennis magazine.
"She's maybe, at this point, the matriarch of U.S. table tennis," said Steve Isaacson, president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association Hall of Fame. "There are no women, at this point, who have been as active in table tennis for as long as she has been. She has left quite a legacy. She's really quite amazing."
Thall Sommer continues to compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles competitions. She often teams with Ralph Stadelman, 59, of Las Vegas in mixed doubles. She also competes with her daughter, Marilyn Sommer Feinstein, 50, of Denver, in the 50-to 54-year old division of women's doubles on a regular basis.
The mother-daughter duo will compete together in early March in the qualifying rounds of the National Senior Olympics, which are conducted every two years. The finals will take place in June 2007 in Louisville, Ky.
At last year's National Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh, Thall Sommer took third place in her division in singles, and third in doubles, with Feinstein.
"She's a great teacher," Sommer Feinstein said. "She's a lot of fun to play with. She's been my main mentor in my life. I learned so much from her. She taught me how not only to compete, but how to fly in competition."