|ESPN.com: Table Tennis||[Print without images]|
BEIJING -- Three-time world table tennis champion Zhuang Zedong, a key figure in the groundbreaking "pingpong diplomacy" between China and the United States, has died at 72.
China's official Xinhua News Agency says he died Sunday after struggling with cancer since 2008.
Zhuang won new fame by presenting a gift to American player Glenn Cowan, who had inadvertently boarded a bus carrying the Chinese team at the world championships in Nagoya, Japan, in 1971.
Zhuang and Cowan were photographed together, creating an international sensation at a time when China and the U.S. were bitter Cold War rivals.
The American team was invited to China after the Nagoya championships. Ten months later, President Richard Nixon made a surprise visit to China, leading to the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979.