As NBC Olympics recently profiled, Kendrick Farris is a bit of an enigma. Farris, the only American male weightlifter competing at the Rio Olympics, religiously eats pancakes before every competition, owns and manages his own clothing line and strives to live each day as “a person that seeks truth.”
His passion for weightlifting is well-documented and, considering the success he’s had in the sport (he won gold at the 2010 Pan American Championships and will become just the eighth American male to lift at three Olympics this summer), not unexpected. More surprising, though, is his enthusiasm for another, fairly obscure Olympic sport: table tennis.
“Table tennis is an amazing sport,” said Farris. “If anyone has not watched it, they really should. Just the hand-eye coordination, the footwork, I don’t think they understand that these people are phenomenal athletes.”
"Table tennis is an amazing sport."
Although Farris has fond memories of watching the Olympics in his grandmother’s Shreveport, Louisiana living room, he doesn’t recall watching table tennis.
“I don’t remember them showing it [in the Olympics],” Farris said.
Rather, he draws his admiration for the sport most Americans know as ping pong from a favorite movie of his. “I’ll be honest, what originally caught my attention was watching the movie Forrest Gump... that was how I first knew as a child that it was an Olympic sport.”
Four years ago at the London Olympics, Farris befriended a charismatic 16-year-old named Lily Zhang, who happened to be one of America’s rising table tennis stars. The pair instantly developed the kind of unlikely friendship that only the Olympics can foster. Farris is 10 years older and nearly 90 pounds heavier than Zhang; physically, they are about as similar as a barbell and a ping pong ball. While Farris’ sport tests brute strength, Zhang’s demands speed, quick reflexes, and hand-eye coordination.
The athletes’ common ground, and the foundation of their friendship, lies in the way that each embraces the Olympics as a unique chance to meet people (like each other) with whom they would otherwise likely never cross paths.
“Everyone [in London] was so friendly, so nice,” recalled Zhang, now 20 years old. “It was like a dream come true, honestly. I was a little bit starstruck by everything.”
Zhang, competing in table tennis singles and team at the Rio Games, will have a very muscular fan in the stands cheering her on.
“I’m excited to actually go and watch Lily compete,” said Farris. “She’s phenomenal.”
For her part, Zhang simply wants to attend “as many sports as I can.” And while her affinity for weightlifting might not quite match Farris’ love for table tennis, she’ll no doubt be cheering on her heavy-lifting companion just as hard when Farris steps up to the bar.