Ariel Hsing was 11 when Warren Buffett first recruited her to play ping pong at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.
Five years later, she exemplifies Buffett's gift for spotting winners. At 16, she is America's top-ranked under-18 player and No. 2 overall. Two weeks ago, she won a spot on the U.S. Olympic table-tennis team. At the Berkshire bash in Omaha this weekend, shareholders will have a chance to challenge her.
"She's a killer," says Buffett, a ping-pong enthusiast who first met Hsing when she was 9. "I knew right away she had the potential to be great because she had this determination. There was no doubt in my mind she was going to put in the hours."
A high-school junior, Ariel has maintained stellar grades while pursuing a spot in the Olympics, a dream she shares with many, including the Omaha admirer whom she calls "Uncle Warren." In a note to her last September, Buffett wrote, "I will come watch you in the Olympics—whether 2012 or 2016."
On April 20, Ariel won an Olympic qualifying tournament and a spot on the U.S. team. But even so, Olympic success isn't her priority. She's preparing to take the SAT in June, with hopes ultimately of winning admittance to Stanford. "Right now it's SAT (preparation), then it's table tennis," says Ariel. U.S. table-tennis coach Doru Gheorghe says academics can be a barrier to U.S. Olympic success. With a laugh, he says, "all our top players are very smart too."
For Ariel, in fact, making the Olympic team doesn't necessarily rank above becoming friends with Buffett and Gates. She says their influence has inspired her to switch career plans from medicine to business. "The luckiest moment of my life," she says, "was meeting Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill."