He hasn’t won a medal at the Paralympics, or even scored a victory. But it’s hard to argue that anything in Rio over the last week trumps the performance of Ibrahim Hamadtou, an Egyptian table tennis player who competes with no hands.
Hamadtou, who lost his arms in a train accident at age 10, did not win either match he played in the Men’s Singles Class 6 event, but he did earn the respect of opponents David Wetherill of Great Britain and Thomas Rau of Germany.
“I know I won today but I think he has demonstrated far more skill. David Wetherill
“It was an absolute honor for me to start off against the legend that is Ibrahim,” Wetherill said after their match. “It was a strange one to prepare for because I’ve seen him on YouTube and he’s a legend in table tennis.”
Wetherill defeated Hamadtou on Thursday in three straight games, 11-5, 11-7, 11-5. Rau won on Friday in three games as well, 11-4, 11-6, 11-4. But consider how Hamadtou plays, and those losses become all the more impressive: He serves the ball with his feet, and rests his paddle in his mouth.
“I know I won today but I think he has demonstrated far more skill than I have just now,” Wetherill said.
Hamadtou reportedly started to play table tennis just three years after his accident. At first, he says, he tried to play with the bat between his arm and torso, but decided that didn’t work. Finally, he tried holding the paddle in his mouth, to huge success.
All these years later, Hamadtou was finally able to place second at the African Championships, allowing him to fulfill his lifelong dream of competing in the Rio Paralympics.
“Not all defeats are defeats,” Hamadtou said after his loss to Wetherill, according to ITTF-Africa. “Sometimes you lose but you actually win because you have added to your experience, you have added to your knowledge. Today, I added to my knowledge.”
He also has a message for the world about what disability really means, in his eyes.
“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. “The disability is not in arms or legs, the disability is to not persevere in whatever you would like to do.”
Hamadtou will also compete with the Egyptian table tennis men’s Class 9-10 team, which plays the Czech Republic on Wednesday.