24 Aug 2020

The honour of representing one’s country at the Paralympic Games is a special one.

This very week next year will see the world’s finest Para athletes gather in the Japanese capital for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Here are just 10 of the stars to look out for at next year’s Games:

by Kabir Nagpal and Simon Daish

Natalia Partyka

The name Polish table tennis fans associate with the word ‘Champion’ – Natalia Partyka has been at the top of the game for 20 years. Competing in both the para and able-bodied disciplines, the 31-year-old is an eight-time Paralympic Games medallist, making her debut at Sydney 2000 aged 11, becoming the youngest Paralympian in history.

World no.1 in the women’s class 10 category, Partyka won a record fourth consecutive singles gold medal at Rio 2016 – will she make it five in a row in Tokyo next year?

Rob Davies

Almost 15 years ago in September 2005, Rob Davies broke his neck playing semi-professional rugby for Brecon. At first it was thought he would be paralysed from the neck down. Gradually recovering and feeling the need to have sport back in his life, his first reaction was not to play table tennis because he thought it was a “game for sissies”.  He admits to being difficult when table tennis was suggested! How the tables turned when he eventually went all the way to win the men’s singles class 1 table tennis gold medal at Rio 2016!

The 36-year-old has found out in his own way how much this game takes its toll and, after winning gold at the 2019 ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships, has full intentions of seeing his name up in lights in Tokyo.

Rob Davies pictured with Rio 2016 gold (Photo: Richard Kalocsai)
Viktor Didukh

Ukrainian athlete, and younger brother of Oleksandr Didukh, Viktor began his table tennis career on the able-bodied circuit before losing his left leg to cancer. However, not even cancer could not stop Viktor from returning to the sport he loves, and he has found his way back to the top in scintillating fashion.

A men’s class 8 athlete, Viktor secured gold on his first outing at the Paralympic Games in Rio, claiming the men’s team class 6-8 title as part of Team Ukraine’s triumphant efforts. In addition, Viktor has also collected European and World Championships gold medals over the course of his career, his eyes are now set on the podium in Tokyo!

Viktor Didukh looking to impress in Tokyo (Photo: Vid Ponikvar)
Melissa Tapper

No list of Paralympic stars is complete without the leading lady from Australia, Melissa Tapper. A dual able-bodied and para athlete, Tapper contested both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro four years ago.

The 30-year-old operates in the women’s singles class 6-10 category, in which she recently took home the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Currently missing a Paralympic medal in her trophy cabinet, can anyone begrudge her one in 2021?

How far can Melissa Tapper go at next year’s Games? (Photo: Antonio Alvarez Luengo)
Ibrahim Hamadtou

Earning international fame for his incredible skills, Egypt’s Ibrahim Hamadtou has wowed fans from all four corners of the world map with his inspirational story.

Having lost both of his arms in a train accident aged 10, Hamadtou is famous for his unique approach to table tennis, holding the racket in his mouth and flicking the ball up in the air with his feet when serving. The electrifying Egyptian made his Paralympic Games debut in Rio and will be Africa’s sole representative in the men’s singles class 6 in Tokyo. We can’t wait to see the three-time African Championships medallist in action!

We can’t wait to see Ibrahim Hamadtou in Tokyo (Photo: Richard Kalocsai)
Will Bayley

Recently seen performing a type different dance, switching the table tennis court for the glitz and glamour of the hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing, Will Bayley has shown he possesses plenty of talent and will be determined to repeat his gold medal exploits from Rio 2016 when he takes on the world once again in Tokyo.

Bayley is currently returning from a lengthy injury and will need time to return to his absolute best before the Paralympic Games begin this time next year. Retaining his Paralympic title is a difficult task but you can be sure the British star will give it his all when the time to perform arrives.

There was no stopping WIll Bayley in Rio (Photo: Richard Kalocsai)
Mao Jingdian

The strongest performing nation at Rio 2016, China is undoubtedly in the driving seat in the hunt for gold at next year’s Games and Mao Jingdian is one player who the country expects to live up to the task.

Turning 25 years old in February this year, Mao has quite simply won it all! Reigning Asian, World, and Paralympic champion, Mao is very much in a league of her own when it comes to the women’s singles class 8 discipline. Mao has also proven uncatchable in the World Rankings, occupying the no.1 position since October 2016. China expects, the world expects, will Mao Jingdian deliver?

Mao Jingdian boasts a mighty record on the international stage (Photo: Vid Ponikvar)
Feng Panfeng

Impressed by Mao Jingdian’s record? Well China is ready to field another giant of the game with Feng Panfeng eyeing up a fourth consecutive Paralympic singles gold!

Competing in the men’s class 3 category, Feng boasts a magnificent list of accolades with two World Championships singles golds and numerous continental titles over the past decade and a half. Regarded as one of the greatest players in Para history, Feng will be itching to add a fourth singles gold to his collection in Tokyo – does destiny await?

All eyes on Feng Panfeng as he searches for fourth consecutive singles gold (Photo: Vid Ponikvar)
Laurens Devos

An exciting young talent from Belgium, Laurens Devos is very much the future of Para table tennis, having already achieved so much in his career aged just 20.

Devos has been attracting attention all over the globe with his incredible rise – a three time European singles champion and 2018 World champion, Devos also happens to be the defending Paralympic champion in the men’s singles class 9 category following his tremendous campaign four years ago in Rio. Will it be gold again for the young Belgian when he takes to the table to defend his crown?

Will Laurens Devos make it back-to-back Paralympic titles? (Photo: Rémy Gros)
Ross Wilson

The third Great British player to make the list is none other than Ross Wilson, another player who holds great ambitions for next year’s Tokyo Games.

Eliminated in the group phase of the men’s singles class 8 event at Rio 2016, Wilson will be aiming to put those disappointments behind him once and for all in the Japanese capital and there’s good reason to believe he can pull it off. Crowned Commonwealth Games champion in April 2018, Wilson followed with a career defining gold medal victory at the 2018 ITTF Para World Championships to propel his name right to the forefront of the sport.

World champion, now Ross Wilson sets sights on Paralympic Games glory (Photo: Vid Ponikvar)
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Natalia Partyka Will Bayley Melissa Tapper Laurens Devos Rob Davies Ross Wilson FENG Panfeng Viktor Didukh Ibrahim HAMADTOU Mao jingdian