They were scenes that stunned crowds around the world watching from home: Egyptian table tennis star, Ibrahim Hamadtou, at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, paddle poised carefully in his mouth as he proceeded to show off his athletic prowess in incredible fashion. The Paralympic Games are known for launching the world’s top athletes on an international stage and given the numerous challenges such athletes have to overcome simply to make the starting line, there are inspiring stories everywhere you turn. But as viewers watched Hamadtou play, they were transfixed. And his story is certainly one of inspiration.
Despite losing both his arms in a tragic train accident aged just 10-years-old, Hamadtou never gave up. Instead, he fought on to create a stunning career that saw him become recognised as an elite athlete, and an Olympian. For table tennis, he controls the bat with his mouth and sets up serves with his foot. It’s a technique that’s seen him climb the ranks in the sport, after he first tucked the bat under where his arm used to be, before adopting the mouth technique which saw him win silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 African Championships.
Hamadtou only made his Paralympics debut in Rio at the age of 43, and now aged 48, he’s once again competing with the best athletes of his class. In an interview with CNN in 2014, the athlete explained how football was the only other sport he could play following his accident. “In our village, we could only play, at the time, table tennis and soccer - that’s why I played both. It was logical to play soccer first due to my case, then I played table tennis as a challenge. It was quite difficult playing table tennis after the accident.”
“I had to practice hard for three consecutive years on a daily basis,” he added. “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.”
Fans watching around the world were quick to express their awe and admiration for Hamadtou, with many taking to Twitter to express their amazement at his skill. One Twitter user wrote, “Awesome! I can’t even return a ball twice in a row using both hands.”