What is it?
Table tennis is based on the same basic principles as tennis, but has a very different scoring system. With 29 medal events and nearly 300 athletes, it is one of the largest sports on the Paralympic programme.
Who can participate in table tennis at the Paralympics?
Table tennis is open to athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities.
There are a total of 11 Table Tennis classes. Lower numbers in each class indicate a more severe disability in relation to the sport.
- Classes 1 to 5: athletes who compete using a wheelchair
- Classes 6 to 10: athletes who can play standing up
- Class 11: athletes with intellectual disabilities
How is it played?
- Table tennis is played on a table 2.74m long, 1.52m wide and 76cm high.
- There is a net in the middle of the table which divides it into two courts. Players stand or sit at at the end of their court (at the end of the table).
- Players use a racket to hit a ball. The ball must go over the net and land in the other court. The ball can land on the edge of the court but not touch the sides.
- To start, one player hits or ‘serves’ the ball. The other player tries to hit the ball back (or ‘returns the serve’).
- When players hit the ball to each other, this is a ‘rally’. The rally continues until a player misses the ball, hits it into the net, or off the court.
- The aim of the game is to hit the ball so that the other player misses it. Each player serves two points in a row and then the server changes. But if the score reaches 10-10 in any game, something else happens: in that case each server serves only one point.
- Matches are played over the best of five games. The first player OR team to reach 11 points wins each game provided there is a margin of two points.
You possibly haven’t heard of Natalia Partyka but you should have. She has done something which only five other athletes have managed in history - she has competed at both the Paralympic and the Olympic Games.
Natalia Partyka is a Polish table tennis player who was born without a right hand and forearm. She started playing table tennis when she was seven years old because she wanted do the same as her older sister. She was motivated to practise hard because her sister was much better ... at first.
She obviously learnt her lesson well because she participated for the first time at the Paralympic Games when she was just 11 years old – the youngest athlete at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.
Since then she has competed at two more Paralympic Games, winning two gold and two silver medals. It was in Beijing 2008 that she joined the exclusive club of athletes who have competed at both Games. Beijing was her third Paralympic Games and her first Olympics.
So what’s the difference between playing at the Paralympics and Olympics? According to Natalia, disabled players have to think more and find ways to win points because many of them can’t move so fast. So it can actually be more difficult playing at the Paralympics.
Natalia has many good memories, such as the time she beat Li Jia Wei from Singapore, who was then ranked number 8 in the world. However, sometimes, she says, winning isn’t the most important thing. Sometimes, Natalia says, the most important thing is losing, because “you learn a lot from your errors and so become a better player.”
With an attitude like that she will continue to improve and continue to excel. Natalia Partyka is clearly a name we will be hearing more from.