By Scott McDonald (Newsweek)

The best table tennis players in the world descended upon Japan in March of 1971, all looking for championships. Shortly after the tournament ended in April, the eyes of the world shifted to the American team, but not necessarily for their prowess in the sport.

The U.S. team received an invitation to take an eight-day, red carpet tour of communist China. The team entered the country on April 10, 1971, becoming the first Americans to visit China since the Communist Revolution in 1949. The Americans got the grand tour, played some exhibition matches against the Chinese team, met some dignitaries and played a significant role in helping governments start coming together to eventually end the Cold War in the late 1980s… Read more

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, center left, and China Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, center right, watch a table tennis games play between China’s Qi Baoxiang, left, and Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost of the US during a commemorative table tennis match marking China’s invitation to a U.S. table tennis team to visit in 1971, known as “ping-pong diplomacy,” on January 7, 2009 in Beijing, China. John Negroponte met with his Chinese counterpart to commemorate 30 years of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, which began in 1979. GETTY/ANDY WONG