Ma Lin - China

The Olympic Games is still more than a year away, but the schedule for the table tennis has finally been published. This seems to make the big occasion in London – the table tennis will take place at the Excel Centre – somehow more real and tangible. You can almost feel the anticipation.

The Olympics are unlike any other event. This is not merely about the rarity factor and the fact that, with Games only once every four years, each competitor must face up to the terrifying reality that they may not get another chance. It is also about the history, the symbolism, the sense that you are competing in an event with transcendent appeal.

What is certain is the Games is not to be missed. I have now attended four Olympic Games, two as a player (Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000) and two as a commentator (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008), and they have provided more drama, more moments of sublime sport, than any other table tennis event in the calendar.

Ryu Seung Min - Korea

Jan-Ove Waldner was at his mystical best in 1992, dominating the field with effortless grace, but we have also seen remarkable performances from Ryu Seung Min, who played like a man possessed to win gold in 2004 and Ma Lin, whose emotional victory in Beijing mesmerised a huge audience in 2008.

We have seen upsets (Waldner defeating Ma Lin in 2004), wonderful moments of sportsmanship (Vladimir Samsonov conceding an edge ball to Jorgen Persson in 2008) and perhaps the highest quality of table tennis seen in a final (Waldner’s epic defeat by Kong Linghui in the final in 2000).

Tickets will be like gold dust, but I would urge any table tennis aficionado to get hold of a few, come what may. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to revel in the Olympic experience, to watch sport at its most intense, to see history in the making. If Timo Boll can take his recent form onto the grand stage, we may even see the Chinese getting a run for their money in the men’s singles at least.

Timo Boll - Germany

The gold medal matches will, perhaps, be the most sought after, but long experience suggests that many of the most memorable matches will take place in the earlier rounds. It is often the last 16 matches, the round before the quarterfinals, that delivers the most astonishing upsets. It is the round when the action really heats up, with eight matches taking place in total, in theory between the top eight seeds and those seeded between nine and sixteen.

Players to watch out for on the men’s side, in addition to Boll and the illustrious Chinese contingent, include Jun Mizutani of Japan, a spectacular and joyously expansive player whose ability to lob from the back of the court is evocative of the great Jacques Secretin. Another terrific, crowd-pleasing player is Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea, a defender with the most explosive of forehand topspins.

Paul Drinhall - England

Perhaps we will also see a sudden improvement from some of the lower ranked players as D Day approaches. Michael Maze, the Danish player, is always worth a look, as is Dimitrij Ovtchararov, the rather unorthodox but highly effective German. Perhaps our own Paul Drinkhall will deliver a spurt in form and create an upset that will raise the roof at the Excel.

The BBC will broadcast a great deal more action from this Olympics than any other, using lots of streams on the red button as well as the internet, in addition to the main terrestrial channels. That is something that should really please fans, and provide an opportunity to take ownership over what you watch and when you watch it.

Michael maze - Denmark

But even with all that television, it is worth getting down to see at least a bit of live action. Simon Barnes, my colleague at The Times, once wrote that the most amazing thing about spectating at the Olympics is the realisation that, whichever venue you walk into, you will be watching individuals experiencing the most important day of their lives. It is, for the athletes, the day that is culmination of every other day, the day for which all other days have been a preparation.

The drama is powerful precisely because the pressure is intense. It is the most vivid sport you will ever see. And it will be upon us sooner than you think.

By Matthew Syed

Table Tennis Schedule for the 2012 Olympics