The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is underway and already providing plenty of drama, with British athletes Dame Sarah Storey and Jaco van Gass setting the pace and picking up golds in track cycling.
But one of the most extraordinary and inspirational performances seen in Japan so far has been that of Egyptian table tennis star Ibrahim Hamadtou, 48, who has no arms so plays his sport with a paddle clamped between his teeth, deftly chipping the ball into the air with his foot to serve.
Born in the port city of Damietta on 1 July 1973, Hamadtou lost both of his arms above the elbow in a train accident when he was aged just 10, first taking up table tennis three years after in 1986.
“In our village, we could only play, at that time, table tennis and soccer – that’s why I played both,” he told CNN in a May 2014 interview.
“It was logical to play soccer first due to my case; then I played table tennis as a challenge. I was in the club where I was officiating a match between two of my friends. They disagreed on a point, when I counted the point in favour of one of them the other player told me, do not interfere as you will never be able to play. It was that statement that fired me up to decide to play table tennis.
“It was quite difficult playing table tennis after the accident,” he continued. “I had to practice hard for three consecutive years on a daily basis. At the beginning, people were amazed and surprised seeing me playing. They encouraged and supported me a lot and they were very proud of my willing, perseverance and determination.”
Recalling the moment he first conceived the idea of playing the game by holding the paddle in his mouth, Hamadtou has explained: “I was trying first to use the bat under the arm, and I also tried using other things that weren’t working so well. Finally, I tried using my mouth.
“It took me nearly a year of practice to get used to holding the racket with my mouth and making the serve; with practice and playing regularly this skill was improved.”
Since making his competitive debut in 2004, he has won silver medals in para table tennis at the 2011 and 2013 African Championships and at the 2013 Egypt Open, after which he was named Arab Athlete of the Year.
Hamadtou competed at Rio 2016 and said doing so meant his “dream has come true”.
Egypt’s Ibrahim Elhusseiny Hamadtou in action during his Men’s Singles Class 6 Group E Table Tennis match at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
“I want to tell everybody that nothing is impossible, and everybody should work hard for what you love and what you think is good for yourself,” he said in Brazil.
“The disability is not in arms or legs, the disability is to not persevere in whatever you would like to do.”
His progress has been hampered somewhat in recent years, firstly by a back injury that forced him to withdraw from the 2019 African Championships in Alexandria and, like almost every other athlete, by the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic last spring.
Hamadtou lost his opening Group E men’s singles game in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium 3-0 to Park Hong-ku of South Korea on Wednesday but will have another chance when he takes on Chao Chen of China on Friday 27 August.
Ibrahim Hamadtou is married with a son and two daughters, cites his uncle and Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo as his heroes and says his personal philosophy is: “Never give up in life!”
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