Twenty years of rubbers: what changed since 1997?

Time flies, and that’s true in table tennis, too. It seems like 1997 was not so long ago, but many things have changed since then. Can you remember which rubbers you were using then? Maybe Butterfly Bryce? Or Tibhar Rapid?

The next picture with Vladimir Samsonov and Jan Ove Waldner at the 1997 World Championship final might help bring those old memories back:

Manchester 1997 WTTC Men’s Singles Final: Jan Ove Waldner vs Vladimir Samsonov

A smaller ball made of a material that would never break, hidden serve, speed glue smell and VHS trading with your friends were the essence of table tennis in those days. Development in recent years has changed many aspects of the sport, especially the material the players use.

In this article, we will take a look 20 years back in time to see the rubbers used at that time, which new brands have popped in and a final test to challenge the most intrepid veterans of this sport.

The regulation

The ITTF has a very detailed and technical regulation regarding the material than can be used while practicing table tennis. Specifically, the racket coverings (most commonly called rubbers), must comply with specific norms that ensure no player has an advantage from using a certain brand or model.

Quoting the latest official technical leaflet:

A system of ITTF authorisation of racket coverings has been introduced in order to ensure that any future changes are to the benefit and not the detriment of the sport. Hence important changes have been made to the Laws of Table Tennis and the Regulations for International Competitions.

Twice a year, the ITTF publishes a List of Authorized Racket Coverings (LARC), usually around the beginning of April and October. It contains all the brands and their permitted rubbers, along with the type (pimples in, pimples out, long pimples, anti spin) and the available colors.

If you are curious about how different the list looks nowadays compared to the one published on October 1997, check out the following picture:

LARC Comparison: 1997 - 2017
LARC design evolution in the last 20 years

The list has evolved from a printed format to a digital edition. The newest LARC, as of April 2017, is available here.

The brands

The number of brands available in the market has varied significantly as the time has passed. Although most of the well-known names have been available for a long time, many others appeared only a few years ago and you may not even remember how old they are.

Let’s check the graph to see the brand evolution for the last 20 years (click to enlarge):

Authorized brands evolution 1997 - 2017

As can be seen, the current amount – 125 – is twice as many as in 1997. The quantity has steadily increased, with an average of 2 new brands each time a new LARC was published.

If we make groups with the new brands that have appeared since 1997, the ones remaining and the ones that have left the list, we have (click to enlarge):


From the 125 brands available today, only 40 of them were available 20 years ago, while 85 have joined the list since.

The rubbers

Taking a look at the rubbers’ packaging is enough to see the evolution of its marketing over the years:

Butterfly Sriver in 1997 and 2017

Let’s see now whether the changes made to the table tennis rules and equipment during these years have affected the type of rubbers that are produced. The following charts show the amount of rubbers by type present in the corresponding lists:


Pips In, Anti Spin and Short Pips rubbers did not change their proportion much. However, Long Pips rubbers evolved from a 6.29% in 1997 to a 10.12% in 2017.

The total amount of coverings available in 1997 was 667, while nowadays we have 1561 -almost twice as many.

The quiz

Take this short quiz with 10 questions to see how much do you know about racket coverings 20 years ago!


* Thanks to Vicky Eleftheriade, Equipment & Assigned Competition Manager at the ITTF, for the provided information.

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