Ibrahim Hamadtou may have lost at the Rio Paralympics, but people are still talking about him as a winner. The 43-year-old Egyptian, who has become a YouTube star for his amazing skills, is the only athlete with no arms to compete in table tennis. Hamadtou lost both his arms in an accident when he was a kid and holds the paddle in his mouth. “I’m just happy that I could come from Egypt to be here at the Paralympics and to play against a champion,” he told AFP. “I can’t express what my heart is feeling: I’m too happy.”
Highly rated Paralympian David Wetherill from Great Britain was the first to beat Hamadtou but described the Egyptian as a “legend in table tennis.” Wetherill is no stranger to the Paralympics, and a video of him diving to the floor for a winning shot in the games in London has also made him a YouTube sensation. “I was feeling the pressure, a bit jittery,” he said. But then “you see people like Ibrahim and you can’t possibly feel nervous: he puts things in perspective—the things he can do.” Even though Wetherill won the match he didn’t hesitate to say who he thought was the more skilled player. “In table tennis it is skill versus skill, and I know I won today, but I think he has demonstrated far more skill than I have just now,” Wetherill said.
After a train accident left him with no arms, Hamadtou refused to leave his home for three years. He then tried to play soccer, but it was too dangerous because he had no way of protecting himself when he fell. So Hamadtou moved on to table tennis, and it took him three years to learn how to flick the ball up with his toes and hold the paddle with his mouth.
“Not all defeats are defeats,” Hamadtou said. “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.”