18 Sep 2016

An electric atmosphere, the crowd roared; on the morning of Saturday 17th September in the expanses of the Riocentro, once again the spectators in the tiered seating went stark, staring bonkers. The voice of announcer, Jonny Cowan, with his Irish lilt was drowned out. Bruna Alexandre has secured bronze in Women’s Team Class 9-10 for Brazil.

However, the morning of the concluding day of play at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games did not belong to Brazil; it belonged to Poland, it belonged to an 18 year old from Tanobrzeg, it belonged to Karolina Pek.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

She beat Lei Lina in four games (11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6), to secure victory for Poland against China and fulfilled what must be the best supporting role in the whole of the Games.

Star Name

Always and quite rightly, the Polish player in the spotlight is Natalia Partyka, four consecutive Women’s Singles Class 10 gold medals affords her a special status. Make no mistake in the Women’s Team Class 9-10 final she played an immense role.

Earlier in the week in the Women’s Singles Class 10 title deciding contest, she had beaten Yang Qian, to claim gold in three straight games (11-8, 18-16, 11-5); in the team final Natalia Paryka repeated the dose (11-5, 12-10, 11-7).

Lost doubles

However, that success came after the Polish duo had experienced defeat at the hands of Lei Lina and Yang Qian in the opening doubles contest (11-4, 8-11, 12-10, 11-5).

One wondered at the time if winning the close third game in the doubles had won gold for China.

“We knew the doubles was vital, in the third game we led 5-2 I think and then at 10-10 we still had a chance; I think we played well”, said Natalia Partyka. “I was really well prepared to play Yang Qian; in fact I told Karolina before my match started to get ready.”

More comfortable

Time and again the doubles success had been the spur to victory; few teams have recovered to win after losing the opening encounter. Poland proved the exception is the rule.

“Today against Yang Qian I felt more comfortable than when I played her in the singles; for me in the team event there is less pressure, I was relaxed, I was focused, I was able to play my game”, added Natalia Partyka. “It’s best I’ve seen Karolina play, I told her she could win; we lost to China in the final in Athens and Beijing, now at last we’ve beaten them!”

China the nemesis

In the final in Beijing in 2004, partnering Malgorzata Grzelak, Natalia Partyka suffered her only singles defeat in the past 12 years at a Paralympic Games; she was beaten by Fan Lei (12-10, 11-9, 4-11, 9-11, 11-6) in a three matches to one defeat.

Four years later earlier in Athens, alongside Malgorzata Jankowska it had been defeat in the final against Lei Lina and Liu Meli before in London, alongside Alicia Eigner and again Malgorzata Jankowska, it was a three-two penultimate round reverse against Turkey’s Nesilhan Kavas and Umran Ertis.

The bronze medal was the eventual outcome; they beat the French pairing of Claire Marie and Audrey Le Morvan in a full distance engagement to reserve the third step of the podium.

Reserve to heroine

Present in London was Karolina Pek but she was very much the reserve player, in Rio de Janeiro she was the heroine.

“I’m not sure if it’s the best match I’ve ever played but for sure it is one of my best; I’m so pleased we won we have a really good spirit in our team”, smiled Karolina Pek who had risen to new heights and had sent Polish supporters into delirium.

“I started the match well against Lei Lina”, added Karolina Pek. “Today my service was good which meant I was able to take the initiative and be the first to attack; also when she attacked I was able to control the ball and block well.”

Motivational force

Throughout the contest Karolina Pek remained cool and calm; there were no histrionics, they came from the ranks of Polish supporters in the crowd. They inspired Karolina Pek but so did another source.

“Partnering Natalia really motivates me and helps me raise my level; she is professional, she gives my advice, she helps so much.”

Delight for hosts

Delight for Poland followed delight for Brazil and delight for Bruna Alexandre.

She partnered Danielle Rauen to a hard fought five games doubles success against Andrea McDonnell and Melissa Tapper (11-13, 11-9, 11-4, 11-13, 11-2) in the bronze medal engagement against Australia, before sealing by overcoming Melissa Tapper (11-7, 11-7, 11-8).

 Disappointed

“Against Poland in the semi-final we did not play well, we were disappointed with our performance”, said Bruna Alexandre. “With the help of our technical staff we were able to sort things out.”

The member of the technical staff no doubt most responsible for the Brazilian success was Paolo Camargo, the man who has sat courtside throughout proceedings in Riocentro Pavilion 3 guiding his charges to a podium finish.

Crowd support

“Most definitely it helped that we won the doubles, win that match and you have two chances; it was a good situation for me for my singles against Melissa”, added Bruna Alexandre. “The crowd was fantastic, they helped enormously but also we have a very united team and that also helps a lot.”

Bronze for Brazil, a second medal Bruna Alexandre; earlier she had won bronze in Women’s Singles Class10.

Paralympics Natalia Partyka Melissa Tapper Yang Qian Andrea McDonnell Karolina Pek Lei Lina BrunaAlexandre Daniella Rauen