He has no arms in a sport that seems to require them. But as is the theme of so many Paralympians, Ibrahim Hamadtou has found a way.
The Egyptian, who lost his arms in a train accident at 10, is one of the more inspiring stories found in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, where he uses a foot and his mouth to compete against some of the world’s best table tennis players.
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Hamadtou balances the paddle in his mouth and uses his right foot to loft the ball in the air for his serve. Each volley feels like a miracle.
“One of the most important memories that I will never forget was when one of my friends told me to stick to something I could do,” Hamadtou told the Olympic Channel. “That remark was the spark that generated something inside of me. The will and determination. I wanted to prove to him that I could practice a sport.”
He says that he began playing in 1986 in Egypt, his village’s favorite sports being soccer and table tennis – but he wanted a “challenge,” so he preferred the latter. He has risen to the top and is competing in his second Paralympic Games, having finished in ninth in the team event and 11th in the singles in Rio.
His play, though, captured the audience’s attention. This year, playing in the Class 6 group – athletes who can stand but have severe impairments of legs and arms – he began his run by falling in straight sets to South Korea’s Park Hong-kyu, who reportedly suffered cervical spine damage in an industrial accident in 2005 that left his upper and lower body partially paralyzed.
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The 48-year-old Hamadtou probably is not deterred. He has bounced back from worse.